Mundaka Under Threat, Again

The finest river mouth wave in the world is fickle at the best of times; remove multiple truckloads of sand from the river mouth and it might not break at all.

In grave danger... This shot was taken shortly before the famous left was ruined last time round due to dredging of the river mouth. Photo: Pacotwo

This is the worry of local Basque surfers as the plans to dredge the Mundaka estuary are put into action. Local authorities mean to take 40,000 cubic metres of sand from the river mouth and move it to the beach of Laída, which lies just over the river to the east, in the town Ibarrangalu. This popular tourist beach is considered extremely important to the local economy and has yet to recover from the severe storms of the 2013/13 winter; it currently lies submerged at high tide.

This relocation of sand will be complimented by the ploughing of the northern part of Laída beach — an experimental technique designed to loosen the sand so that it will move more freely as sediment. In addition to the initial influx of new sand, which will be transported in lorries to Laída, the change in the shape of the sea bed will in theory facilitate the natural movement of sand towards Laída.

You will recall that the dredging of sand from the river in 2003 caused the long, hollow left hander that reels alongside and away from the harbour effectively to vanish for two and a half years. This was at a time when the Billabong Pro Mundaka was still a regular fixture on the world tour. Held in October rather than the more consistent winter months, the event often suffered from a lack of swell, but the wave’s hiatus — which forced organisers to cancel the contest in 2005 — probably contributed to its permanent removal from the schedule.

In 2003 the quantity of sand dredged totalled 287,000 metres squared, a significantly larger amount than the 40,000 now at stake. But perhaps what concerns local surfers most is the apparent lack of consideration given to the effect the dredging may have on the wave, especially coming so soon after manmade changes brought about its temporary ruin.

Sancho Rodriguez, founder of San Sebastián’s Surfilmfestibal, has been involved in discussions with the relevant authorities ever since the plans came to light. “Not once did they communicate with or involve local surfers in the planning stages, or before they announced the plans to the media.”

As the intervention was considered “emergency action”, it was decided that a study on its environmental impact was not necessary. And according to the petition launched to put a stop to the dredging, since the work began a digger has been spotted operating just metres from the low tide shoreline, when surfers had been assured that the works would takes place no closer than 100 metres from the low-water mark.

The local authority responsible for coastal areas maintains it has proceeded in the correct manner at all times, arguing that for months it has been working closely with AZTI, a science and technology centre specialising in oceanography, in order to minimise any potential damage to the wave. But the AZTI concedes that the possibility of damage to the wave cannot be ruled out.

“I understand that there is a conflict of interest, that different parts have to coexist and that Ibarrangelu needs a dry beach,” says Sancho. “But I don’t think we have to compare the income generated by the wave of Mundaka against the income of the beach in Ibarrangelu. Mundaka is probably one of the biggest assets to the European surf industry, of all the Basque Country, and if Mundaka is not a world class wave, the image of Basque surfing would be greatly affected.”

UPDATE: It was yesterday announced that the work being carried out at Mundaka and Laída will be “slowed down”, following a request from the Mundaka council that more be done to ensure the works won’t adversely effect the quality of the wave. At a meeting between the relevant authorities yesterday afternoon, it was agreed — somewhat contradictorily — that while the preparatory studies had been “adequate and sufficient”, a period of several days would be prescribed to conduct further preparatory studies. Right, that makes perfect sense. In the meantime work will continue but at a reduced rate. A victory of sorts, I suppose.

Read Sancho’s article for the Inertia here, or his more detailed blog post on the Surfilmfestibal website here.

Read and sign the aforementioned petition here.

Watch one of the raddest video sections ever, below.

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