The Margaret River Pro will remain on surfing’s world championship tour until at least 2021 after a deal was struck between the West Australian Government and the sport’s governing body.
Two non-fatal shark attacks in one day just kilometres from the competition last April threw the future of the event in the state’s South West into doubt.
WA recreational surfers Alejandro Travaglini and Jason Longrass were attacked just hours apart during the competition near Gracetown, about 15 kilometres away from where the competition was held.
The attacks left some Brazilian pro surfers saying they were not comfortable going in the water, and the event was eventually called off midway through the competition.
Reports later emerged that the World Surf League (WSL) was searching for a replacement location, fuelling concerns in Margaret River that the event’s contract would not be renewed beyond this year.
But WA Tourism Minister Paul Papalia has announced a sponsorship deal with Tourism WA that has secured the future of the event for at least another two years.
It means the competition’s short-term future is safe in a region labelled by Brazilian professional surfer Gabriel Medina last year as the most dangerous place to surf in the world.
‘It could be the finish of this sport’
Medina, along with fellow Brazilian Italo Ferreira, was among those who said they did not feel safe competing in the area last year.
“Safety is the main thing … there is risk, but I don’t want to wait for something to happen to us,” he said after the event was cancelled by organisers.
“I don’t think it’s safe to surf.
Even the locals, they always see sharks here … It could be the finish of this sport if something really bad happens.”
But the decision to abandon the event split the surfing community.
Surfing’s biggest name, Kelly Slater, backed the WSL’s decision at the time, but also raised questions about why some competitors did not want to carry on at Margaret River.
“There are a few theories about who did and didn’t want to surf and the larger effects on the [world] rankings,” he said.
“The most vocal against haven’t had a great record at Margs so we can only be left to wonder if that played into the fear of surfing.”
Retired professional Taj Burrow, who lives in nearby Yallingup, criticised the decision to cancel the competition.
“Probably the [big] waves they surfed on the first day of the event were a lot riskier than the possibility of a shark attack,” he said at the time.
“It’s just one of the things that comes with surfing and competing in the ocean.”Organisers had already decided to push back this year’s Margaret River Pro by one month to allay safety fears.
The event will kick off in late May, rather than April.
In a statement last September, the WSL cited “aggressive shark activity in the area” at last year’s event and attributed it to schools of salmon and washed-up whale carcasses attracting predators to the area.