Breakwaters and Surfing's Happy Accidents

Stu Nettle picture
Stu Nettle (stunet)
Swellnet Analysis

See also: When Breakwaters equal broken water

When the surfing world reflects on the year 2017, ‘wave pools’ are the most likely topic that’ll come to mind. In the space of a few years, wave pools have moved from fantasy to reality, becoming so popular there’s now a wave pool industry with competitors vying for primacy, investors seeking the best return, and surfers arguing over every aspect of pool surfing.

Before wave pools, however, there were artificial reefs, and when you look at it like this it seems surfers have always had a thing for imposing our will on the coast and creating waves. Yet what’s been overlooked in the rush is the enormous amount of waves that have already been created for us. Waves that were created inadvertently, mind you, but they were created nonetheless.

Construction of Australia’s first man made wave began in 1820 shortly after coal was discovered at Newcastle. On the back of convict labor a breakwall was commenced to link the mainland to Nobby’s, a small islet 100 metres offshore. Lack of funds and an abundance of swell saw the work continue only sporadically till in 1846 a causeway linked land and island. It was shortly followed up with a longer breakwall which redirected water and scoured a deep channel on the north side.

If naming Newcastle Harbour causes anxiety then stop reading now as more East Coast gems will be revealed before this article is over. And the East Coast it is, save for one or two spots - here's looking at you Mandurah! The reason for the geographical exclusivity is the Great Dividing Range and the river systems that flow east from it. Because of the mountains we have the breakwaters - and the accidental waves they create.

The largest river on the East Coast, the Clarence, and its breakwalls

Through the latter part of the 1800s, trade routes up and down the coast were reliant on sea transport, and this meant bars had to be crossed. In their natural state - that is, without training walls - river mouths tend to be broad and shallow, the deepest channel always shifting due to longshore drift, swell, or even rainfall. In these conditions every crossing was a coin toss and the list of shipwrecks, not to mention the lives lost, began to stack up.

One of the people to work on this problem was an unlikely fella named Walter Shellshear. Walt was a railway engineer, and between overseeing NSW’s great railroad expansion, he studied river bars in his spare time. In 1884 he published a paper 'On the Removal of Bars from the entrances to our Rivers' in which he devised a two-pronged solution.

On the seaward side, Walt stated with military drama that "the battle is to be fought with the waves" - meaning a rivermouth should be fixed and stationary irrespective of waves. While he was more yielding on the inland side observing that each river needs to be assessed individually so training walls can “assist the operations of Nature instead of opposing them."

Walter Shellshear's 1884 proposition for the mouth of the Richmond River at Ballina shows the original course of the river - Lighthouse Beach is all on reclaimed land

It goes without saying that surf amenity wasn’t considered, it’d be at least a quarter-century till Tommy Walker would stand on a surfboard in Australia, yet Walt’s great civil contribution - the rockwalls not the railways - would eventually benefit every surfer who lives near a river mouth.

Just a few years after Walter’s paper was published his theory was put to practice: in the 1890s both the Richmond River at Ballina and Tweed River would get their first training walls.

Duranbah with the first training walls in place

Down the coast, the largest river on the East Coast, the Clarence, had training walls built just upstream from the bar. The rock was quarried from nearby Angourie, and when the workers blasted too deep they disturbed a freshwater spring, the result was Angourie’s ‘natural’ swimming holes, the Blue and Green Pools.

On the south coast, training walls were built at Moruya in 1907, which were upgraded when a stone quarry was opened nearby. Moruya's training walls took priority as throughout the late-1920s Moruya granite was shipped north where it was used in the pylons to the Sydney Harbour Bridge.

By mid-century coastal engineers had built numerous river training walls along the East Coast and they had ample opportunity to assess if Walter Shellshear’s theories were working. The verdict? ...sort of. On the inland side, a channel was indeed scoured out improving navigation, however they found that on the ocean side the bar simply moved a bit further offshore. Part of the reason was that training walls only ever extended as far as the tide line, not beyond it, and sometimes they were only built on one side of a channel.

Research in the 1960s concluded that breakwalls, where possible, should be on either side of a river and they should extend into the surf zone. We surfers should be thankful for those findings.

Forster before the breakwall on the Tuncurry side was built

A breakwater doesn’t create waves the way a wave pool does, but it can greatly increase the size and quality of existing waves. The propensity to increase swell size is dependent on how each breakwater juts into the ocean. A well-aligned breakwater - or conversely a well-directed swell - will see swell energy ‘bounce’ off the breakwater at an angle to incoming swells which amplifies wave height and in turn making it break faster and pitch further.

Increased quality can come not only from the above scenario, but also from proximity to the offshore river bar which breaks up straight lines of swell into random peaks. There’s also the less recognised matter of wind protection. The best breakwaters, and there’s a few, create the kind of waves that have eluded artificial reef designers for years.

In the 1950s and 1960s coastal engineers took their great leaps forward and unwittingly created new waves up and down the coast. Lots of waves! Great waves! The Clarence River had its breakwalls extended, of interest being the south-east alignment of the breakwall on the northern side. Forster had a breakwall erected on the Tuncurry side. The Tweed River breakwalls were extended at Duranbah. Also, Evans Head, Brunswick Heads, and Port Macquarie had their breakwalls extended.

There were also the breakwalls that didn’t create wedges but improved wave quality in other ways. In 1972 Kirra Groyne was constructed, while a year later a breakwall was built to join Currumbin Rocks to the mainland. This last one was followed up with a northern breakwall built in 1981 that fixed the Currumbin channel to its present location and stabilised the bank.

Aerial view of Currumbin before any breakwall intervention

With the extension of the Tweed River breakwalls and the construction of Kirra Groyne, Kirra point was stripped of sand, which in hindsight was the ideal state for classic Kirra. For twenty years Coolangatta surfers enjoyed Kirra like that before the Tweed River Sand Bypass System swamped it once more.

The Tweed bypass system wasn’t the first bypass system on the Gold Coast, that honour goes to the Gold Coast Seaway which was not only the first on the Goldy but the first in the world. Prior to 1986 the Southport Bar was a treacherous crossing for boaties setting out from the Gold Coast’s expanding northern suburbs. Abutted by The Spit to the south and Moondarewa Point to the north, the bar was an unpredictable channel that shifted with each storm. In fact, it moved so much that the town of Moondarewa on the southern end of South Stradbroke Island was lost when the bar migrated north in the 1930s.

A stitched photo of Southport Bar taken in 1982

Historical photos show Southport Bar to be a broad delta of shapeless shoals. In 1986 the breakwalls were constructed and the bypass system started pumping sand. Almost immediately the banks at The Spit stabilised and north end surfers celebrated over “the Gold Coast’s latest surf spot” largely unaware of what was developing 200 metres away on the north side of the structure. It would only be a matter of time before they figured it out, and not too much later before everyone else did too.

To be fair, South Stradbroke owes its quality as much to a constant supply of sand as it does to the breakwall, yet any debate about quality is academic. Up and down the East Coast there are simply too many examples of classic breakwater waves to argue against their value. And though the wave pool industry is kicking into gear it still has a long way to go to catch up to the bountiful work those coastal engineers of yesteryear laid down for us surfers.

See also: When Breakwaters equal broken water


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maddogmorley Thursday, 14 Dec 2017 at 5:59pm

Not so happy breakwall over here....

Interesting topic - 3 people drowned within last few years at local Adelaide breakwall, one recently, at one of the safest beaches ever, where all persons were from countries where there isn't a lot of swimming and now no-one can use the breakwall.....

Woof woof 41's picture
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Woof woof 41 Thursday, 14 Dec 2017 at 6:52pm

Hmm maybe no one should be allowed to use the beach again when someone drowns or a pool or.........
Society rules wonderful thinking as always.

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Roystein Thursday, 14 Dec 2017 at 6:08pm

Interesting to read regarding the pools at Angourie, knew they were a quarrie but didn’t know it was for the break wall, although ultimately with some thought it would be quite obvious

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amb Thursday, 14 Dec 2017 at 6:11pm

dare i say put one in on the Murray Mouth (cue greenies outrage)

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thermalben Thursday, 14 Dec 2017 at 6:14pm

Given the shallow gradient, it’d have to extend out half a kilometre or more to benefit surfers I reckon!

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amb Thursday, 14 Dec 2017 at 6:20pm

That would do, be nice protection also from the dreaded SE wind

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simba Thursday, 14 Dec 2017 at 6:19pm

Sorry about peoples lives being lost as in the above but really if you cant swim you shouldn't go in the ocean,simple as that.

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Woof woof 41 Thursday, 14 Dec 2017 at 6:20pm

Evens heads so fun.. I'm a big fan of these and I believe this was installed in me by photos of kirra and dbah in surfing life mag back in the 80s.
They ad so much character to a surf photo from a water angel.

And seeing a line up shot with 3 or 4 perfect and blue clean smashable waves in a mags was one of my favorite shots.
Still is especially if it has a side winder grower in the mix..
So fun.

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crg Thursday, 14 Dec 2017 at 7:46pm

I remember as a grom when they were constructing the GC seaway they fenced off the road from the SeaWorld entrance. There was whispers of perfect uncrowded waves so we used to scale the fence passing our boards and pushies over in the dark to beat the construction workers. It got good firstly on the south side then we started going over to Straddie later. Originally is was almost a pointbreak with a big lagoon inside the line of sand. Once they started pumping the sand it turned into how it is today...still one of my favourite waves but those early uncrowded days are special memories.

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stunet Thursday, 14 Dec 2017 at 7:53pm

Ben's got an aerial photo of Straddie with both the walls in place and the shallow shoals as they exist in the photo above. The area is in transition, even has the big lagoon much as you describe it.

Whack it up Ben.

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geoffrey Thursday, 14 Dec 2017 at 8:09pm

myself (and im sure thousands of others) have been eagerly watching the newly constructed dry docked shell cove marina breakwalls waiting for the marina to get filled and to see if they create any ridable waves. A guy at work reckons that each stone was placed with a GPS crane. given that i know nothing about construction of breakwalls this sounds very impressive to me.

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Woof woof 41 Thursday, 14 Dec 2017 at 10:07pm

I hear the novelty left in the spit way Is no more?
Did they dredge it or something.!

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daisy duke kaha... Friday, 15 Dec 2017 at 8:13am

By my reckoning the east coast has 17 "artificial" waves created (or vastly improved) by breakwalls. Think about that!! 17 waves that didn't exist but were created in the last 100 years.

PS: How's the photo of Foster for a before/after illustration?!

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thermalben Friday, 15 Dec 2017 at 8:23am

Stu/crg - here's that image I saw in a photographic book last weekend - it shows Surfers through to Straddie (top right), and highlights the lagoon mentioned.

I have the photographer's name so will try to see if he's got any other images from around that time.

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crg Friday, 15 Dec 2017 at 9:39am

I have seen an image from straight above before...the lagoon was actually sealed off eventually with the sand line extending down to the beach in a perfect line and joining the northern inner side of the lagoon.
You can even see the outside section where every man and his dog tow these days.

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rj-davey Monday, 18 Dec 2017 at 6:03pm

Interesting. So is that why when you surf a little further north there you sometimes hear fellas refer to the area as the lake?

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groundswell Friday, 15 Dec 2017 at 8:46am

and they dont all create wedges or peaky waves along the beach. some build up with sand outside the groin and peeel perfectly with a dredgy takeoff. whn theres enough swell and the prevailaing wind is from the right direction for sand buildup.

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pblewis Friday, 15 Dec 2017 at 9:52am

I've heard stories that mooloolaba used to break from carties to the mooloolaba surf club back before they put the break wall in at the rivermouth? can anyone confirm/deny this?

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stunet Friday, 15 Dec 2017 at 11:36am

Check this aerial photo pre-breakwall...

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pblewis Friday, 15 Dec 2017 at 1:42pm

definately a ruler edge sand line and corduroy swell lines running through there

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Woof woof 41 Sunday, 17 Dec 2017 at 3:19pm

Wow that looks insane! Although there no white water or waves breaking on the bank line.
That looks like it could have been world class.

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velocityjohnno Friday, 15 Dec 2017 at 4:04pm

Uncles used to bodysurf Mooloolaba in the 1940s, they rode it to as big as 16ft faces. When was breakwall installed?

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Woof woof 41 Sunday, 17 Dec 2017 at 3:16pm

Yes it did! I lived there for nearly a year a decade and was told about it..
But on massive e/ne I have still seen people like riding waves from further out in the bay than the walls all the way through the bay to to beach..
NOT THAT BIG A DEAL WAVE WISE But gee the shore break trys to be pipeline on these days..

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andrew-pitt Friday, 15 Dec 2017 at 10:17am

Great article Stu. Fantastic old photos. Yes, Walter Shellshear is an unsung hero who inadvertently enhanced more surf spots on the east coast than anybody, (breakwalls = semi permanent rip location = peak formation. Plus add in wind shelter. All up = better beachbreaks). You had me scratching through my files, looking for a biography on Walter, a chapter in a book i think. Is that something you uncovered in your research?

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stunet Friday, 15 Dec 2017 at 10:24am

G'Day Andrew,

No I came across him in notes to an old Coastal Conference. He was definitely a pioneer thinker, though other guys like Sir John Coode, and later the people involved in the Delft Report, should also be given kudos. Perhaps only partial acclaim for the latter, they also got lots of things wrong.

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andrew-pitt Friday, 15 Dec 2017 at 10:25am

There is this bio article.

Putting NSW Breakwalls into context. This was before bridges crossed all the rivers. The fastest way to travel up and down the NSW coast was via boat (materials, resources and people). Boats need ports. And ports need safe all weather access, which led to the demand for river breakwalls.

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stunet Friday, 15 Dec 2017 at 10:33am

And for added irony, it was railways that first crossed those bridges opening up the trade routes and lessening the importance of manageable bars.

Note Walter Shellshear's occupation as a rail engineer.

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mitchvg Friday, 15 Dec 2017 at 3:28pm

South Straddie is a tricky one I reckon. Haven't been there for a few years but my observations are that there isn't a shallow bar just out from the mouth (like Tweed). There are banks a bit north and fair way offshore where they dumped dredged sand; you can see sets walling and marching northwards from the water. The beach gradient is steep and deep at the pump.

I think what might be happening out from the mouth is it's being "scoured out", and depositing "downstream" Just north. That leaves a relatively deeper zone for the S swells to come through. Then, get broken up near shore by the fresh sand that is being deposited from time to time. That lagoon may well still be filling up in a way, as there certainly isn't an oversupply of sand near the pipe.

That's what I reckon anyway. You just don't see the lines bending in from a bar or reef like some other places. I think for a lot of N side of walls, it's got more to do with depth at the mouth and nearshore sand budget...

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velocityjohnno Friday, 15 Dec 2017 at 4:13pm

What a great article Stu, kudos for the research and those important primary documents - the fantastic photos.

Experience in WA of the construction of harbours/marinas with breakwalls, and anecdotes from the old timers, were that beachbreak quality was reduced to the north afterward - sand starvation occurring in the dunes, increasing their gradient and creating more dumpers. But then again, these did not have sand bypass systems, nor a decent rivermouth to scour out banks. New breaks were formed sometimes, and the 'bounce' and pyramiding of the waves there did occur, which was fun.

I'm left to ponder the notion that all Australian environments are man made, from our east coast rivermouth breakwalls, to the interior deserts, to the constant battle between gondwanic rainforest species and the fire prone eucalypts now unleashed from their former prison in the coastal heathlands, and back to the many faces of Kirra.

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velocityjohnno Friday, 15 Dec 2017 at 4:17pm

Another fascinating bit of history is the entrance to Macquarie Harbour on the west coast of Tassie, the engineering works created quite the current flow, which can steadily run at 4kts against incoming vessels. Didn't create a wave that I can recall, but the harbour being so large sees that tidal flow is accompanied by flows created by changing air pressure on the harbour itself.

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Blowin Friday, 15 Dec 2017 at 6:03pm

I know a town whereby man intervened and fucked up a beautiful wave that would have changed the face and nature of the town if it still existed. It would have led to just another overrun surf ghetto.

A godsend really as the joint remains off the travelling surfers radar now.

Man also altered another structure in the same place providing for a fun and unheralded line up.

Man gives and Man takes away.

Cool story , Stu.

It's a puzzle that a decade or so of competing surf magazines all managed to avoid all of these interesting stories that are so relevant to Aussie surfers.

Well done for helping turn the tide.

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Nick Brennan Saturday, 16 Dec 2017 at 1:04am

At Sawtell, apparently bonville creek instead of coming through onto southside where it is now a stable entrance, used to break through whats now the lower carpark and out past the island depositing way more sand there and making the wave a grinding barrel. The wave still gets really good but only irregularly. Anyone have any info on this?

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gcuts Saturday, 16 Dec 2017 at 9:49am

Nick, there use to be some great old photo's on the walls in the Sawtell pub, and in the halls of the old Sawtell theatre. Been a while since I've been to either, so may have all gone now.

Also, same too up at Cotton Tree, where the Maroochy river comes out 'use to' actually run out where the Maroochy Surf Club is now. Again, used to be some old photo's in the surf club showing the river running out way way south of the island.

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thermalben Saturday, 16 Dec 2017 at 9:54am

Same at Kingscliff too.

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velocityjohnno Saturday, 16 Dec 2017 at 7:12pm

Nick that's crazy. I remember being a little kid at Cotton Tree and we used to run up to Pincushion Island and play there. It was connected to the caravan park; with the river mouth immediately north of it. Circa 1979-81. Best place ever, you would run along the river and a sea of solider crabs would bury themselves, to reappear as you passed.

Looking at Google maps now, the river mouth is drifting south again. Its spun out to think it went all the way to the surf club.

Edit: and what the...?! They've put groynes in around the caravan park! Any waves break off these?

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stunet Monday, 18 Dec 2017 at 9:57am

@VJ, here's a shot from the rivermouth in '84:

And talk about being spun out, on the weekend I was reading about the history of the Nerang River and the Seaway. In the 1800s the rivermouth used to be about 10kms south of where it is now (near the current site of Star Casino) and it migrated north, sometimes at a rate of 100m per year, till it's current site.

To put it another way, South Stradbroke Island used to be 10kms longer.

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Blowin Monday, 18 Dec 2017 at 10:12am

It's impressive to think about but totally normal for sand to be displaced and replenished in such vast quantities.

That's why it does my head in to see the local dune care fuckwits putting up fences along large sections of the beach in areas on the North coast that are otherwise utterly untarnished by any visible sign of mankind.

Perfect beach with no obvious signs of human impact now cordoned off with a seasoned pine fence that is built 3 metres in front of the dunes .

The fence having high tides wash around it already.

Hey Dune care - Take your fence and your idea that the beach is yours to police and pollute with your shitty fence and fuck off !

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lostdoggy Monday, 18 Dec 2017 at 6:25pm

If they let it keep moving North, think how much more real estate they could've had.

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batfink Saturday, 16 Dec 2017 at 6:21pm

Heading up to Sawtell for a spell after xmas. Will keep my eyes out for those photos.

Certainly it's a set up that would have shifted around mightily before the breakwall. I can imagine it gets good, but not so often, and I haven't seen it really working in a series of visits there. And I'm never particularly feeling safe surfing rivermouths, especially like that one, water can often be a little murky from silt, and then there are dolphins every other minute to get your heart fluttering.

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Lanky Dean Sunday, 17 Dec 2017 at 2:18pm

Re Newie Habour,
About twenty years ago the Newcastle Port Authority extended the south wall of the harbour significantly.
I remember watching trucks driving out there and wrote it off as maintenance. It was only later upon walking the break wall that I noticed the actual extension . It was noticeable for a few reasons. New concrete pathway. They also widened the tip of the break wall also.
It was in a transition period between the steel works shutting down and prior to the ramping up of coal production. I am also pretty sure the works happened very quickly in the summer months.
The extension also significantly altered the consistency of when the wave would break.
These days it seems a less dramatic version of its former self that rarely breaks, let alone show its teeth.

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Blowin Sunday, 17 Dec 2017 at 7:20pm

I haven't surfed the joint recently but apparently the river at Keramas has moved again.

Having not seen it for myself , I'm not sure if it's due to the development as rivers do relocate naturally. But when I surfed there a while back one of the locals was having a whinge to me about the fact that the river made the wave and the development had redirected it and that the wave quality had diminished over the years as a result.

Long term issue ?

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Nogaryno Sunday, 17 Dec 2017 at 10:51pm

The waves at South Straddie suffered for most of this year, due to the pumping jetty at the spit being offline for four months from March till June(I heard they were upgrading the pumps) still there were some good days but nowhere as many as usual. There was so much erosion that there are still huge sand cliffs and even some old pipes have been exposed that I've never seen before in 17 years of surfing there. The waves have defiantly been on the improve since the pumps have been back on.
I think the banks at Straddie are better and more consistent than at most other break wall setups, but when the pump was off it was straight and fat.

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campbell Monday, 18 Dec 2017 at 12:41am

On the downward side of man made breakwalls and groynes it possibly was even the same for southern Perth beaches, the Swan river opening was a apparently a series of inlets and sandbars from Fremantle up to Cables when it was first discovered, some very old artists impressions around from before the many groynes that became the harbour show a very different coastline than what is there today, not to mention the bridge to garden island, whether the surf would have been better is hard to say, although unlikely it could have been worse than today especially with the south swell blocking aspect of much of above mentioned engineering , lack of swell due to the islands offshore is the main issue effecting this regions surf potential but who really knows what could have been?

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stunet Friday, 22 Dec 2017 at 9:33am

Just been reminded of how precarious breakwall waves can be while reading the plight of First Peak, Sebastian Inlet.

No doubt everyone's heard of First Peak via Slater - it was his traing ground growing up - but besides Slater, First Peak created more US National Champs than any other wave. It came into existence in the late-60s when they dug a canal through to Indian River (much the same as Mandurah in WA) and trained it with breakwalls.

By pure chance the northern breakwall had just the right angle for waves to reflect off and run down the beach creating a wedge along the way. That was the classic First Peak wave, and if the wall was positioned at 10° this way or that the wave wouldn't have existed.

In 2003 authorities tried to stabilise the wall and rebuilt it with a wave dampening structure on the outer layer, so now the energy doesn't reflect and First Peak has stopped breaking.

Point being, for breakwall wedges to work they not only need the walls aligned correctly, they also need to allow waves to bounce off them. Happy accidents indeed

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philosurphizing... Sunday, 31 Dec 2017 at 1:02pm

It looks as though it is a pier with some rocks at the end.

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Andybox Saturday, 23 Dec 2017 at 6:45pm

The left off the southern breakwall at the spit was a classic wave. I remember all the main beach crew ripping it to shreds, perfect lefts and great when the afternoon NE kicked in. Then the pumps were turned on and that was the end of that. South Straddie came into its own, and for a few years the crowds were manageable. How nobody has been taken by a shark when paddling across the bar is a minor miracle.

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Cliff Burton Friday, 29 Dec 2017 at 8:00pm

I know this is a long shot and would cost squillions without covict labor but . . there are natural 'breakwalls' ( essentially point breaks ) that are a smooth continuous rock face which makes an incredible wave. Could we convince councils/government to smooth the breakwall face to create some world class waves and increased power that the jaggered wall dissipates.

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philosurphizing... Sunday, 31 Dec 2017 at 1:32pm

The first step would be to do some small scale modelling in a wave tank.
So you would need to build a wave tank and test out every idea and design that has ever been thought of.
In other words do the science.
Where do you build a small scale wave tank ?
On the crowd funded land where recreational surfers build their first wavepool, which is the centrepiece of a mandala garden, next to acres of solar panels and a thermal solar setup, next to the paulownia plantation which is next to the wooden surfboard building factory, next to the area where the concrete terapods are made for man made surfing reefs.

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uncle_leroy Saturday, 30 Dec 2017 at 11:34am

If only you had access to your own quarry or a never ending supply of underwater power gel, I can think of soo many potential setups that need either rock added or rock taken away.

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shraz Thursday, 4 Jan 2018 at 1:08am

the thing about straddie that is often overlooked is the massive remnant delta offshore. you see a pipe that pumps sand but what's really going on is huge refraction over the 'old bar'. yes there is a bar where the entrance 'used to be'. the entrance was moved south by us, while nature was moving it north fairly rapidly a 100 years ago and before. I'll try to get this photo up to demonstrate....

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stunet Thursday, 4 Jan 2018 at 7:43am

Hey Shraz, coincidentally I was looking at a version of that photo yesterday, fascinated by the focussing and refraction, however I'm not sure if the outside waves are breaking on the old bar.

You're correct that immediately prior to construction of the walls the entrance was further north, yet over the preceding 200 years the entrance had moved approx 2 kilometres. There's sedimentary evidence of the river entering the ocean near the casino. So the bar always moved, and it never left behind offshore evidence of it's location.

The other thing is that the bar, regardless of where it is/was located, is just sand. It shifts with every storm. The Seaway has been there for 32 years now, I just can't see how the 'old' bar could stay in place that long.

So what's causing the waves to break outside?

My guess is that it's either pumped sand eddying off the beach, or it's a northwards shift of the Seaway bar due to longshore drift. Because the current runs south to north, many East Coast bars are situated to the north of the entrance. I've surfed Forster bar a heap (when it existed, it's been a while) and at times it broke way north of the walls.

Nothing concrete in those theories. Amazing photo but.

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truebluebasher Saturday, 13 Jan 2018 at 2:02pm


Saltwater Dreamtime creation stories are original surf folklore.
First wave/First Wipeout/First longest ever ocean Swim/Man taking to ocean as dolphin.
Sea rising or Sea residing and just for this purpose add sea breaching thru The Spit.
Now that's a small sample of original Saltwater surf stories just from my locale.

Swellnetonians are no fools and we wish to appraise Saltwater mastery in East Coast design.
100's maybe 1000's of rock formations hosting a suite of tailor made fish traps.
Take a closer look at your local Point Break. Those Rockpools aren't UFO rings.
Burleigh Point's shape is crafted from half a dozen fish traps and the creek the same.
Add some yams...That's one epic Fish/chips shop. Yep! Biggest around!
Each large/ micro surfbreak is gauged at a different shape & height for a certain catch.

To be honest I've only glanced over Northern NSW Points yet Dozens are there.
The last few hundred years no one has maintained them. King tide photos reveal the shape.
Yesterdays Fish traps are Todays kids surf wading pools.
10,000's years relation to surf has changed. All Surfers love a(Fish Trap)Rock Break!

1976 Construction of Tallebudgera Groyne the swell ran down the creek to the Playroom.
The few nights we surfed...some from the Playroom queue would venture over.
At speed the chest height endless waves pitched up onto the Big Horseshoe Fishtrap.
The ride being crescent shape peeled under brightly lit bridge around crescent of fish traps.
Careful dismount to shore race path back under bridge good to go again. 2 others that's it.
24/7 wave pool if you like! Only more clear & Warm as toast as well.

(Black Dog Roams)
Fellow Swellnetonians rightfully respect sacred Saltwater Place.
Injustices occurred with destruction of Iconic Landmarks to build early breakwaters.
Swellnet readers whole denounce destruction of said places.
(Echidna People)Pooningbah Caves (Fingal) protected by Galiwus were destroyed to build Tweed Breakwall...ever since his black dog roams.
Yet several other quarries used held more suitable rock.
Fact remains caves & thru-tunnels of Mt Warning region were destroyed for obvious reason.

Hoping to check back on (foreward) to this Early Gold Coast Built Surf History.

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Spuddups Saturday, 13 Jan 2018 at 3:25pm

We have a few of these over the Tasman here in NZ. My local beach, Lyall Bay is a good example. It's never particularly epic, but the breakwall turns a pretty average beachie into a reasonably good one. Also of note is Blaketown in Greymouth, Cobden in Westport, The Mole in Whanganui, The Groyne in New Plymouth, and Spit Beach in Dunedin.

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Spuddups Saturday, 13 Jan 2018 at 3:44pm

truebluebasher's picture
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truebluebasher Saturday, 13 Jan 2018 at 4:45pm

Breakwaters (Foreward)

Intro revealed Ancient breakwater wedding modern breakwater. Yum!

Foreward (Sandbars)
The Spit is by all means of the Sandy Strait being worlds oldest surfbreak of 750,000 years.
Meaning it is home to the sand bar as well.

Rivers hug mountains to the sea and early readings insist first breach hugged B'Heads ridge.
Breaching the sea sweeps north back stitching as it goes.Burleigh Lagoons butted the sea!
Photos also clearly show beach breaching over Miami foreshore...then Northcliffe etc....

Re: Great explorer Cook's chart reveals no East Coast Rivers. How is that?
1770 North Coast rivers to Cape Moreton were as one.Note (Morton Bay inked on surf side)
1791 Bryants miss all rivers becoming the first to surf a Qld point break.
Surfing a devil swell around Cape Morton deep into White Bay (Today's Moreton Bay)
During the end of 1700's Morton & Stradbroke Islands parted. (Unlikely the first time).

(Southport Bar) refer to Photo Q for this section praise be thermalben
1821 Crew of Hydery records Big Swamp river breaching The Bar.
1822 Bingle records The Bar being shallow and 4 miles wide.
1822 Edwardson records Bar being silted over.
1823 Oxley sounds 2 bars - The Narrows(Centre R) & second @ The Basin(Yacht moorings)
1825 Broadwater Reserve (centre up)+ 1872 The Spit Public Reserve (centre R up)

1829 Basin Bar is surfed by Convicts later thru whole century by Tweed to Byron Getterz.
Note: Surf crashes on inside Point & along Southport foreshore (Centre L)
Pioneer Surfers rode tail of Big Wet sweep thru 2 lineups to slot the tide channel north.
All Albert rivers rushed here.Fast coffee rock pointbreak heavily timbered from wipeouts.
OK! So now you see the heavy shit our pioneer surfers faced. Ankle chain Leggies don't help.
In case you're wondering! Yes! This is unique to the world. Names of surfers are available.

1864/66 Bodysurfers/ Polynesian + 1910 Boardriding all at Main Beach(Moorings R)
1873-1877 Surf Cruises-(Moorings)1876 Surf Resort (Opposite)1885 Surf Cabin Hire(Centre R)

1874 First Canal cut with Tides back as far as Mudgeeraba- Wyangun Creek
1877 Breakwall 3 chains long just above Basin. Head/lamps by 1880 (Original Seaway)
1877 All clear! Interstate shipping commences Arakoon being the first noted ship I believe.
1880-84 Southport Jetty(Top L) Was also battered by waves.
1886-1902 Southport Seawall (Centre/Top L) Surf battered down wall mostly near points.
1888 Goat Island(Lower L) River Breakwall commences...Unfunded /Abandoned by 1892
1888 Surf Buggy ... All surf breaks south to Border(Centre R down cont...)
1895 Bar Break- thrus 1896 Jumpinpin Bar (Soon after both silt up)

The Narrows River Timber wall+ 1902 Pacific Cable + 1921 Ocean Timber Wall (All Centre R)
1926 + '30's/50's Breakthru's but rarely enough to navigate safely
1930's Seaplane precinct preserves Broadwater/Spit/Narrowneck to this day
1940's Beachgoers blockade Bulldozers. Sand miners lobby council to win the day. (All R)
1986 Seaway/Bypass firsts as said (Top R) + Wavebreak Is.(Centre Top)Also rare surf break.
2001 Narroneck Reef + 2017 Top Up (Centre R)

Southern Breakwaters already a good read.Must read all above again..Thanks guys!
Tweed River I touched on above.

How about we finish up with [Peter Winter's] Nostalgic Currumbin Tale.( Yes Again!OK)
Currumbin Beachfront was always a lagoon.
The sand swept Northward Cloaking Currumbin Rock like a snow cone. (Sounds like Mars)!
Start of 1900's Jim Farrell hitched scoops to his steeds then reconfigured the beach.
Finishing touch shaping some slabs for he & grom mates to now surf their creation.
Jim wasn't done... he later founded Currumbin SLSC.
Also cut & delivered all the timber for Cooly's First Seawall.
Jim also pioneered the first Surf Coach tours to Southern Points.

Now do we need a weird twisted epilogue... me thinks so. I'll be back!

truebluebasher's picture
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truebluebasher Saturday, 13 Jan 2018 at 6:29pm

Breakwaters (Happy Accidental Ending)
Intro + Foreward + Fellow Swellnetonians provided the gutz of it... so on to a telling ending.
[Caution] Wild aimless meandering ahead.

Back to the Future...
It's no secret getterz surfed from mountain top down river along ocean and cross bay.
Surfing a log thru rapids onto the magic carpet ride along the 100-200km session.

Today's Dams to weirs to breakwaters are designed to tame this wild surf safari.

Who here hasn't surfed a dam wall?
I surfed Tallebudgera Dam back in the 70's ... I'm guessing many earlier.
Tweed River Dam is Booger heaven.
Mid stream we have the water slides...Surf them how you like.
From mountain lets shoot downstream to rush the valley's Standing Waves...(Weirs)
Murwillumbah/Currumbin/Tallebudgera/Nerang River (several)/Coomera.[All been surfed].
I might add these standing waves can pop up anywhere... Mountain Top to town centre.

(Lakes) I have a photo of a kid surfing Windswell on his Mal @ Coombabah lake in 1965.
Other Lakes were all towed by 1970's. I might add Cruise/Ferry Boatwake is still a thing.

Closer to sea but inside the river mouth Breakwalls we have those sweet little gems.
Inside Ballina was first to draw a crowd. Tweed has inside breaks/Currumbin Ck is to die for/Tallebudgera as I said above is just perfect + I've also surfed a standing wave at the bridge jump zone & Wavebreak Island is so crowded when the whistle blows.

Out the river on the beach we have the Breakwalls themselves. I agree nice shape + power.
I promise to re read this lot. Sensational guys!

Keep going to outer banks...Now we've arrived at Tow -in country.

What's that! An Artificial Reef... just last year alone Gold Coast had several proposals.

We know skysurfing is no limit that's just as crowded on an ill wind.

Back to the future! Miles of room here. Any Takers?

Europe/Japan/America all prize their River Shootin' Getterz.
(Check out that old B& W Film of Japs Shootin'Rapids) Easily surf whole set on one craft.
Now whole world queues for a ride with handlebars of course. Still it's crazy wild.

Gold Coast has the most unique dynamic surfing history but are the only fools to wipe it.
Gold Coast Surfing Getterz were Godz but never a first or second look in Metro Surf City.
This is not how it's meant to end....Then One Day!

thermalben's picture
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thermalben Saturday, 13 Jan 2018 at 6:33pm

Fantastic TBB!

truebluebasher's picture
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truebluebasher Saturday, 13 Jan 2018 at 9:57pm

thermalben's picture is worth 1001 words apparently.Cheers! Thanks for the help!

Woof woof 41... when they dredge beneath the Jetty all Spit breaks line up. (Still waiting!)
If you have to duck under jetty it's a closeout. If it's all overhead beneath jetty- choose any.

Little Groyne Kirra a graveplot drop then wrestle the twisted mutant into the cement mixer .

Day 1 waiting for Tallebudgera Groyne lefts. Left came back south/big'n'clunky but lasting.
Tallebudgera crew checked forever for left point to line up. Come 1979/'80 Surf Mag Cover.
Bait the GCCC boofs and hand Goofs them dredge keys to shape up that left point.
Love it when Currumbin & Palmy Groyne waves gyrate left into the wall. Jam 4 Basherz!

truebluebasher's picture
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truebluebasher Thursday, 18 Oct 2018 at 12:14pm

Bulldog Dogwhistle Bulldozer breaks new ground by breaking thru broken breakwater!

Backlogged Pottsville locals took matters into their own hand by spooning out creek mouth.
This baited up Tweed Council to halt proceedings as to contamination fears from deadpool.
Soon after the Bulldozers were deployed to clear Mooball Creek.

Meanwhile farting around in the shadows are the local Groms preparing their Doggy Door.
[Big wave Ban] [CREEK CLOSED] That left the Beach still being in play...
Local booger Groms + token Skeg had done their homework. A+B = Get ready! Game On.

Breakthru moment and the Groms dig out their doggie door muckraking the slop standups.
Shed a tear for Grom Skeg who can't get into the groove of Muddy Wave Pool. "What's that?"
"Hurry quick! One last Party Standing Wave!"..."Here comes the Big Bad Bulldozer Man!"
'Alright Kidz!' 'Yer had yer 15 minutes of fame!' Now get the F... off my Work Site!

Did rad Groms beat out Pro Surfers as Celeb ribbon boyz for Whiteshoe marina openings?
Either way this dial a Breakwater wave raises the Bar for Stormy River Groms.

Downright best Grom montage you'll ever cheer on! Grom spirit is alive & dangerous!
Grom Boogerz get Wave of the Day ~ ~~/C..>[ =}o .....)#(...... /-o=o]))~~~?

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indo-dreaming Friday, 19 Oct 2018 at 7:23am

Speaking of break waters i was surfing Google earth the other night over areas of Java and i hadn't looked at for some time and it's amazing the amount of new break walls for river mouths and harbours at least a half dozen or more new break walls .

Im sure one or two has too have a good set up and they are all on beaches that were just straight open beaches.

I can say this here, because I'm very unlikely to get the time to go look myself.

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Grub Screws Monday, 22 Jul 2019 at 12:23pm

That was a good article but too celebratory for my liking especially in light of the recent article on Port Beach erosion linked to rous head breakwall, Fremantle. What about the waves that have been lost? Sandtracks for one.

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stunet Monday, 22 Jul 2019 at 1:18pm

@GS, the article was originally posted a while ago but it got another breath of life because on the weekend I found the 1884 map of Ballina (see in article above) which I posted on Instagram. 

Also, a few other people mentioned waves that had been ruined and it was enough to put together this article, though it doesn't mention Sandtrax.

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stunet Friday, 5 Mar 2021 at 8:12am

Some light reading for Yamba residents curious about local history, or indeed anyone who's visited the Blue and Green Pools, the 'natural' springs near Angourie.

It's a history of the Angourie and South Head quarries, used to supply rock for the Clarence River training walls. The Blue and Green Pools were created when miners tapped a natural spring and the hollows they'd created filled with fresh water.

Some great period photos of Angourie, plus locations of extant remains of the quarries and the railways that connected them to the breakwaters.

Check it out.

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Walt Shellshear Thursday, 23 Sep 2021 at 3:34pm

Hey Stu

Great to read your research into my G G Grandfather's early engineering contributions in NSW and the resultant benefits to surfers along the coast. It's a cool story!

We will certainly check out the Richmond rivermouth the next time we do a road trip up north.

By all accounts he was the pioneering dude! Checkout -

I have forwarded your article to the rellies.

A big shout out to Crouchy up in Lennox.


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stunet Monday, 13 Dec 2021 at 12:59pm

Hey, I missed this comment when it was posted, Walt.

Though the name is unfamiliar, for many East Coast surfers the work of Walter Shellshear plays a large part in their lives.

Glad you enjoyed the story,


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marcus Friday, 5 Mar 2021 at 9:07am

two waves i can think of that have been ruined by breakwalls
Wollongong harbours whale bone would have wrapped around the shelf

and Newcastle's Big Ben wouldn't have a break wall in the way at the end of a big one.

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philosurphizing... Friday, 5 Mar 2021 at 4:04pm

I knew the rocks for the southern breakwall came from the blue pools, but I never knew about the rail system they built to transport them.
Sir John Coodes sure was a clever engineer.
I like the thought that went into the design of the training walls
How's the train story, there was nowhere for the train to turn around so it had to drive backwards from Yamba the the quarry at Angourie.
upload photos online free

steeno's picture
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steeno Monday, 13 Dec 2021 at 12:50pm

Check out the aerial shots of Port Kembla Harbour to see how the breakwaters have taken away what was most likely the largest sand point break on the South Coast of NSW

stunet's picture
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stunet Monday, 13 Dec 2021 at 1:00pm

Reason to dream when seeing those old shots, hey Steen?