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Rabo de Peixe in the Azores - once home to a world class wave. Now even the backup wave is under threat

The following news just came in from SOS (Save the Surf - a Portuguese group trying to help out. Like the UK's Surfers Against Sewage, Save the Waves and Surfrider Foundation, these guys are focusing on trying to protect surfing waves from destructive coastal development.

About 10 years ago when TSP was at Rabo de Peixe on the beautiful island of Sao Miguel in the Azores, the world class wave there was 'under threat'. The community, as it still is, was poor and troubled by unemployment and rampant drug addiction. There were no real surf organizations that could raise the alarm about the wave's destruction, and a sense of hopelessness prevailed. How could a few travelling surfers and maybe three local surfers hope to confront the forces of local, regional and national government, and the construction companies that stood to make a killing from the harbour wall project? And why, we wondered, should we stop the apparent progress that a harbour wall represented if it would make the lives of this troubled community somehow better?

A decade down the line, these questions remain pertinent both in Rabo de Peixe and all over the world. But what has changed is this sense of a galvanized global surf community; a realization that as a group of people all over the world we do actually have a substantial voice in many situations. We can now not just raise the alarm, but also add constructive input to situations like this so that maybe some of these waves can be saved, while at the same time these communities can be made safer and have more economic opportunity. Surfers don't need to be seen as mindless, caring about own 'stoke' above the well-being of communities. Through groups like these guys in Portugal, SAS in the UK, Save the Waves, Surfrider etc. worldwide, working with the ever increasing number of local surfers, we can have a voice and offer some constructive input, and thereby both help surf side communities, and save more of our waves.

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The left on the other side of Rabo de Peixe's harbour keeps local surfers and travellers happy.

It gets good often, but plans for a new harbour wall now loom.

S.O.S. (Salvem o Surf /Save the Surf – Comprised of highly qualified environmental scientists, engineers and leaders of the International surf community including Rip Curl Teamrider and Rip Curl Planet Embassador João de Macedo) travel to Rabo de Peixe in The Azores, Portugal, to save a wave and to use surfing to help improve the lives of people in the Rabo de Peixe seaside village community Rabo de Peixe in the Azores used to be the home of a world class wave and is one of the poorest seaside communities in Europe. Many of the locals survive from fishing and sadly drug use, young pregnancies and violence are prominent in this area. The wave was destroyed in 2000 to make way for a fishing dock, much to the horror of surfers the world over. It is now remembered alongside other destroyed world class waves.

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The average surf in the Azores tends to be big and punchy. Then, when a real swell hits, it gets huge and world class.

As this world class wave was destroyed however, another wave began to form on the left of the harbour. This new wave, a shadow of the former wave, is still considered to be of a good standard and on bigger days it can reach a size that can challenge even the most seasoned surfer. The sad news is that there are now plans to construct another dock to the left of the harbour that will destroy, once and for all, any opportunities for surf within this little harbour. In a project sponsored by Ripcurl Planet, S.O.S. are currently negotiating a compromise and have helped draw up plans that illustrate the viability of constructing the dock a little closer to the front of the harbour bank, enabling a beginners wave to still form behind it. This would preserve not only the potential for surf tourism in the area but it would also safeguard recreational resources for the locals, who often times are not able to travel beyond Rabo de Peixe due to their situation of extreme poverty. This little fishing community have been blessed with this natural resource which has the potential to improve their quality of life now and in the future.

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Milton, one of the growing number of local surfers in Rabo de Peixe.

In parallel to negotiations with the local government, S.O.S. spent time with the locals in this community discussing the value of the natural resource of waves and found them to be receptive to the idea. Surfing has a wonderful ability to transform peoples lives for the better and in Rabo de Peixe people are hungry for change. S.O.S.’s efforts are being further strengthened by other initiatives in the area designed to make the most of this precious resource. People like Reuben Farias, Director of the Rabo de Peixe Naval Club, has helped integrate children into the Naval Club by organising ocean sports for children that would otherwise be victims of violence and crime on the streets. In essence teaching young children in these conditions to appreciate nature through sport might be their salvation. The certainty is that the new fisherman dock will be built this year. Whether S.O.S.’s

recommendation has been considered – only time will tell.

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