The NSW north coast’s reputation as Australia’s shark attack capital hasn’t stopped hundreds of young surfers from across the globe hitting the waves in the area this week.
The seaside town of Lennox Head is bursting at the seams in the middle of winter as it hosts the annual Skullcandy Oz Grom Open, the premier youth surfing tournament in the world.
Two-hundred youngsters aged 10-18 will compete in the six-day event, along the same area of coast where eight people – two fatally – have been attacked by sharks since September 2014.
The importance of the Open, organised and managed by locally-based volunteers, cannot be underestimated for the community during winter months when tourism numbers are at their lowest.
“Winter gets quiet,” event organiser Steve Conn told AAP on Friday.
“All the local businesses are happy to contribute to this event.”
The threat of a shark attack has to be mitigated by organisers through regular patrolling of the water, overhead monitoring by drones and helicopters as well as a string of smart drum-lines that run parallel to the beach.
They were installed by NSW Department of Primary Industries following the recent spate of attacks.
Clearly competitors and their parents aren’t put off by the area’s history.
This year’s Open sold out within 15 minutes of entries being made available, with competitors coming from Japan and Europe.
“This is a really important event and one that’s interwoven into the local community,” contest director Cameron Lindsay told AAP.
“There obviously has been a lot of sharks in this area but all the measures have been put in place and at the moment it seems like we’re not in the same predicament as we were a few years ago.”
The 2015 attack that left bodyboarder Matt Hall with severe leg injuries occurred the day before that year’s Oz Grom Open started.
Mr Lindsay said shark attack mitigation was a key element of the competition’s organisation and management.
“It’s a full ambit of different measures that we employ now – in-water assets, aerial assets and also guidelines and operating procedures we’ve had to adopt in case of any shark incident or shark sighting,” he said.
“There’s obviously a real strong desire for people to come and compete. It’s seen as the premier junior comp in the world … but the parents want to know that we’ve got things in place – which we do – to keep their kids safe.”