First impressions at the Palm Beach Artificial Reef
Over the weekend a long range east swell made landfall on the Gold Coast, allowing an early glimpse of the half-complete Palm Beach Artificial Reef.
Saturday morning before the wind picked up was reportedly the best of it, however it broke all weekend between 4'-5' running for up to 30m from takeoff on the better waves.
Those who surfed it said the takeoff area is only small, though as one of them told Swellnet, "At least none of the reef's real estate is wasted in a closeout section. The takeoff area is small but it has a surprisngly long wall." And this is without sand build up around it.
The reef is alarmingly shallow, with one rock even breaking the surface, leading locals to question the design. However, it's still a construction zone, not meant to be surfed, so if by September - the end date for the project - the larger boulders haven't settled into the sand, or the smaller boulders haven't settled into each other, then the leading edge of the reef will be altered. It'll either be machined down or the uppermost boulders will be replaced with smaller ones.
When complete, the reef will have a minimum freeboard of 1.5m at mean sea level, equating to 60cm at the lowest astronomical low tide - which is the lowest tide possible.
All of which means the finished reef will be deeper than its current state.
The remaining 50% of the work will most likely extend the footprint and also build an offshore platform. The offshore platform is the leading edge of the reef, its role being to 'precondition' swell lines: have them stand up, focus on the reef, and also moderate the change in depth so the waves don't undersuck or slab too hard.
The design of the reef incorporated six years of swell data for Palm Beach, with east through to east/southeast being most prevalent. So having it perform on a straight east swell is a promising early sign as it's summertime bread and butter on the Goldy.
Equally as important as what happens over the reef is what happens on the leeward side of it, and again the early indications are good with swell diffraction creating scattered shorebreak peaks. Being sand dependant it'll take a while to assess the surf quality of the adjacent areas.
Surf quality aside, the primary purpose of the reef is to halt erosion, which is pegged as an increasing threat for coastal councils, hence many of those councils are eagerly awaiting the outcome at Palmy.
Similarly, there are engineering firms also watching the project closely, ready to pitch artificial reefs as a cheaper solution to coastal erosion than compulsory land acquisitions or perpetual remedial work.
So let's stop and indulge our imaginations for a moment, and not just Palm Beach locals but surfers everywhere: If the reef at Palm Beach works, and if other councils think artifical reefs are justifiable, then surfers stand to be the beneficiaries of any forthcoming program. Just as we were the inadvertent beneficiaries of those other great coastal projects - river breakwalls - the potential exists for surfers to again scoop the lucrative byproduct.
Over the weekend we got the first glimpse of it at Palm Beach Reef.