Steps towards a blue region in Europe
Cantabria highlights surfing as a catalyst to protect the blue heritage, boost sustainability and create a more accessible ocean for all.
Coastal communities around the world have found in surfing a strategic resource in continuous growth. Cantabria detects the need for the conservation of its blue heritage, planning, management, accessibility, and sustainability.
The event “Cantabria Sustainable Surfing” organized by the regional government with the support of Surf & Nature Alliance and Líderes Cantabria, brought together representatives of the community to publicize the current situation, perspectives and opportunities for the region, focusing on four axes:
- Comprehensive Diagnosis of Surfing in Cantabria.
- Surf Reserves with a multidisciplinary approach.
- Opportunities linked to surfing in the current European framework.
- Projection of adapted surfing, accessibility, and inclusion through the waves.
“Cantabria Sustainable Surfing”, brought together scientists, academics, businessmen, politicians from different parties, and representatives of the regional surfing community.
Why a Comprehensive Diagnosis of Surfing?
Surfing continues to grow at an unstoppable pace. It is a resource that still has enormous potential for small regions such as Cantabria, but requires planning and management. Regional vice president, Pablo Zuloaga, through the General Directorate of Sport, with Mario Iglesias at the helm, required a starting point and a road map for the future. And commissioned the University of Cantabria (UC) this study led by Professor Juanjo Gonzalez Trueba also co-founder of the Alliance.
The Integral Diagnosis of Surfing was formally presented at the event ‘Cantabria Sustainable Surfing’ in the Sala Pereda of the Palacio de Festivales.
The first great challenge is to guarantee the conservation of the breakers as heritage and as a strategic resource. There are different ways to protect surf breaks. But in the first place, an inventory of the breaks of the region is fundamental. According to the Diagnose, Cantabria is a privileged coastline with 54 surf breaks (Some “Secret-spots” stayed away of the census as local community prefers not to evidence), 7 of them of national and international interest, a region with 56 years of surf culture, 4 surf reserves, 80 surf-schools, more than 500 direct workers, and over 50,000 visitor-practitioners a year.
Sports Ministers announced the recognition of surf breaks by law and the Higher Council of Sports as the first natural sports facilities registered in the region. A great new step towards their preservation and conservation of highly valuable ecosystems.
“By analyzing the reality of surfing in our region we will be able to make intelligent decisions that help our community move forward,” said presenter Leticia Mena, promoter of #OctoberSurf and head of Líderes Cantabria.
The Comprehensive Diagnosis of Surfing goes far beyond surfing as a sport, as it covers the conservation of natural spaces, surfing as an economic sector, as a cultural phenomenon, events, and everything that is generated around surfing.
The report also detects margins for improvement and for the empowerment of some elements that can bring great benefits for everyone. Correct some models, and might sort different types of problems arising today. Conflicts that are limited to specific times of the year and some particular places but tend to increase every year.
Conclusions of the study presented by the specialists range from the conditions of the waves and beaches to the tourist, technological and environmental possibilities of the development of surfing.
Fernando Méndez Incera, an internationally renowned expert in wave modeling from the Department of Water and Environmental Sciences and Techniques of the UC, spoke of the space-time variability of the surf resource. “We are in a position to better understand our waves and predict their behaviors every day of the year,” he explained. He emphasized “Cantabria’s coastline has a great diversity of conditions and depending on the time of year you can go to one beach or another”, “there is an imperative need to de-seasonalize the practice of surfing”
Ángel Herrero, from the Department of Business Administration who leads a Marketing Research group in charge of the development part of the sector, sustainable tourism, and territory, also intervened. “We have focused on the potential of surfing as an economic activity, analyzing supply and secondary demand data,” he said. He stressed that “a model of economic, social and environmental development based on surfing and marine heritage must be framed within the philosophy of blue economy. It involves the use of natural resources and the ecosystem to also generate wealth and well-being.” He added that “there are many agents in the sector, so much so that we have an economic micro sector linked to surfing.” In his opinion, there is a “great opportunity for synergy between the surf sector and the Cantabria brand. It is about growing the activity, but from the conservation of heritage, reinforcing the idea of Cantabria Sustainable Surfing”.
On behalf of the Cantabrian Surf Federation, Pedro Gutiérrez joined the panel to share the educational, sports and leisure vision. “Cantabria is the only region in Europe that has hosted events and sports championships of the highest standards in all categories. Athletes themselves are great exponents in such a small community”. He recalled the “altruistic” beginnings of the Federation itself, which became professional in 2012. Among its challenges, “to continue creating blue jobs or involving other agents such as sports clubs, which have been diminished in the face of the ‘boom’ of schools.” He finally held an inventory that feeds a future “official census that collects all sports facilities or natural areas of sport”, and also other measures such as ending “intrusiveness”. In education, he celebrated that “we are pioneers in many aspects such as environmental and inclusion” He summarized his intervention in the need to “enhance the social part within schools and find a way to quantify practitioners.”
Dr. Juanjo González Trueba, professor of the Department of Geography, Urbanism and Territorial Planning of the University of Cantabria, director of the study, and who throughout the event was an accomplice in the presentation tasks. He took care of inventorying the 54 breakers, quantifying them, characterizing them, and evaluating their current state.” He set out “the key ideas that Europe is telling us: focusing on a green economy, digitalization, and resilience. Cantabria has enormous potential to become a blue region.” In addition to conservation and protection, he pondered “the enormous potential of surfing to raise the voice for the value of marine space for humanity, to reorient our relationship as a society with the sea. Is Ocean Literacy, as UNESCO promotes in SDG 14. We have to stop living off the sea to live with the sea.” He concluded by saying that “we need governance and collaborative innovation to find the best path to the sustainability of surfing in Cantabria”.
Surf Reserves with a multidisciplinary approach
Jaime Lillo and the mayors of San Vicente de la Barquera, Suances and Ribamontán al Mar.
Cantabria has currently four Surf Reserves including a great number of surf breaks with valuable ecosystems. Three mayors from 3 different municipalities joined us: Andrés Ruiz Moya, from Suances; Dionisio Luguera from San Vicente de la Barquera; and Francisco Asón, from Ribamontán al Mar. Miguel Ángel Ruiz Lavín, from Noja, could not attend.
Jaime Lillo, a specialist in European affairs and a member of the steering committee of the Surf and Nature Alliance, accompanied the politicians and explained what these surf reserves consist of. “Surf breaks were not singularized as part of the heritage that shall be preserved, valued and given wealth”.
Lillo showed the Manifesto for the Protection of the Waves as the origin of these Surf Reserves. The document that municipalities and coastal communities around the world ratify endorse this protection and strategic value.
“The time is now. This is a historical opportunity. The European response has no precedent. We must get involved with the agents to make a more multidisciplinary and sustainable approach, so the beaches and blue heritage we love will go to a better future. Each Surf Reserve can become the germ of a development model of blue villages/communities” he explained.
Dionisio Luguera defended that “not everything is about the volume of people when we talk about nature. Natural areas must be enhanced. I hope that European funds will bring prosperity to San Vicente de la Barquera and surfing grows sustainably and with respect for the environment. That means not a massive or intense growth, but grow in quality.”
The councilor of Suances, Andrés Ruiz Moya, proudly valued the “national and international” professionals and amateurs who surf on our beaches, even from a very young age. He also called for preserving the coast, as he spoke of the massification of tourism.
From Ribamontán al Mar, Francisco Asón, valued the diagnosis very positively, “we needed it. We have been regulating for the last three years and I would say that sustainability is just what surfing needs.” He said that they will continue with the current projects subsidized by the Ministry of Industry, Tourism, and Commerce, as well as at the European level.
Europe looks to surfing
Paz Díaz explained that Europe is strongly committed to surfing, sustainability, and inclusion, which gives Cantabria many options.
The presence of the General Director of European Funds, Paz Díaz, was fundamental to identifying the cross-cultural values that Europe perceives from the field of surfing. This set out the opportunities in the form of structural funds and programs in the EU that can help to boost different projects in this area.
Today, Cantabria participates in several European innovative projects that have been positioning the region abroad. Cantabria is committed to more than a trendy sport, but a sustainable and inclusive vision”. Achieving an overall vision and a “collaborative work and synergies” she said it will allow attracting further support from Brussels.
Waves of inclusion
In recent years, Cantabria has taken significant steps to make the ocean more inclusive and facilitate access to the sea for people with different types of disabilities. Adapted surf or para-surfing came to stay.
General Director of Sports, Mario Iglesias, presented in his initial speech the innovative European research project led by the Government of Cantabria through its Regional Society of Education, Culture and Sport (SRECD): INCLUSEA. This European research consortium of 7 organizations from 5 countries is fully dedicated to the creation and development of innovative best practices for adapted and para surfing. This project is co-financed by the Erasmus + Sport program of the European Union.
INCLUSEA seeks to foster and promote greater inclusion and accessibility for people with physical and/or sensory disabilities in surfing in Europe, and beyond. Through a highly participatory and interdisciplinary process, INCLUSEA aims to evaluate, develop and co-create best practice guidance for surfing instructors and practitioners. This will help establish a shared European and international standard for those who participate in or lead adapted and/or para surfing and/or surf therapy programs.
Javier Cantera, European Projects Coordinator of the Regional Society of Education, Culture and Sport and co-founder of Surf & Nature Alliance, spoke about the impact of INCLUSEA, the potential of adapted surfing, and the need to continue breaking down barriers while offering new opportunities to all those who have some form of disability, today 15% of the European population.
Surfing is a great therapeutic tool that generates well-being and good mental and physical health for those who practice it. Open and clean blue spaces, waves, beaches, healthy sport, and water activity are highly beneficial for the athletes and companions. Today, increasing numbers of adapted surfers are inspiring thousands with their stories of overcoming.
The municipalities with adaptative facilities and adequate access to the sea, well-preserved nature, and duly qualified instructors, receive increasing numbers of people that until recently, did not even consider the possibility of accessing the marine environment due to their physical or mental conditions.
On the part of the Cantabrian Surf Federation (FCS), Pedro Gutiérrez, secretary and specialist in inclusive surfing, introduced three of the athletes who “fight every day to get ahead” and commented that the last Spanish Championship was a success: “there were 32 participants and 13 were Cantabrians or had formed here ”. Óscar García, president of the Federation confessed that they do not stop while boasting of a work team and their contribution to the “blue economy”.
3 riders joined the stage: Juanma Ramajo, totally blind and runner-up of Spain, told in a scoop that in December he will be at the World Championship in California. Ibai Hervás, who suffered a double amputation, has been champion of Spain in his modality; and Celia Gramse, partially blind and bronze medallist of the last World Cup held in San Diego, will also represent Cantabria in the next Para-Surf World Championship. The three were awarded a diploma “in recognition of their sporting merits in Para-surfing and for inspiring us with their story of overcoming.” Their specialized instructors were also honored as they play a big role to make the achievements possible.
Juanma Ramajo, Ibai Hervas, and Celia Gramse, great champions in the adapted surfing category. Vicepresident Zuloaga gave the award to Celia.
A nod to the surf history and Spanish pioneers
56 years ago Jesús Fiochi started surfing in Spain, soon later, Carlos Beraza began shaping the first surfboards, making the first wetsuits, and taking a major role in the surf industry. Both Jesús and Carlos were awarded for their contributions. “The sea and the surf have been always part of my life as well as of my family’s,” said Fiochi, owner of a longshoreman company. Beraza pointed out that “Sustainability of surfing is fundamental but I don’t think the crowds are not a big deal yet”. Carlos took the opportunity to ask the political leaders for some “ecological – artificial reef break”.
Spanish surfing pioneers from Cantabria Jesús Fiochi and Carlos Beraza, awarded by Vicepresident Pablo Zuloaga and General Director of Sports Mario Iglesias.
The vision of regional authorities
Mario Iglesias, General Director of Sport, in his opening speech.
The general director of Sport, Mario Iglesias, spoke of surfing as “an asset for the community as we are aware of the potentialities it has from the economic, tourist, sports points of view, but being consistent with the defense of the sustainable development model in which we believe. We really like the motto of the ‘Surf & Nature Alliance’ ‘We are what we protect’.” He stressed the “necessary unity of all to make the best decisions, always from consensus. We have to get down to work, we have many challenges ahead.”
Vicepresident Pablo Zuloaga skipped protocol and gave his speech from the set of interviews.
The Vice President and Minister of Universities, Equality, Culture, and Sport, Pablo Zuloaga, defended that “Cantabria has to face many challenges and surfing is a priority as a resource for our land. The diagnosis tells us that we have an extraordinary natural space, with 54 breakers and a society that sees in this sport a possibility of growth in sports values, but also economic”. He added that “it is also true that we have to put on the table measures that alleviate and correct the effects that at some point may be perceived as negative.”
For the vice president, “surfing can never collide with either green or blue. We have to see it as a sustainable resource and work from there the Cantabria brand. From the Ministry of Sports, in the case of surfing, the relationship with the City Councils seeks to take care of it as a natural and unique resource that we have the obligation to preserve”.
Achieving “Surfstenibility”, a message of present and future
One of the greatest challenges and opportunities of surfing in the region is linked to social and environmental responsibility. Surfing is becoming a great tool for raising awareness towards the protection of the blue heritage, a great voice for ocean literacy, a source of well-being, therapy, and inclusion of people with different disabilities.
Far from sending a dark, pessimistic, and defeatist message, throughout this event, the different agents involved have been encouraged to channel the course of sustainability with a message of illusion, but with a realistic wake-up call.
Surf breaks are an essential part of the blue heritage, as well as a strategic resource for coastal communities. At the same time, these marine spaces have clear spatial limitations and load capacities that condition the possibilities of growth and their sustainability in the future.
Surf & Nature Alliance, evidenced the need for governments to act by considering the planning, management, and conservation of blue space in their development plans. Actions that go through the preservation of the marine environment, promote a more sustainable approach, and a lifestyle in harmony with nature. Basically, highlights the need to find a balance between the environmental, the economic, the social, and cultural.
The photographs of Juanjo Ruiz Cisneros brought the ocean into the venue.
Farewell and closing
The event gathered audiences from different economic and social sectors, it had an interactive to engage the audience and let them participate.
All attendees received an illustrated heart full of waves by the artist Patricia Pascual. And The Gordinis band enlivened the evening and closed with some rock classics.
It’s time to keep on working with all agents to find a more sustainable and inclusive future.
Photos: Román G. Aguilera @romang.aguilera