Aggressive surfers at iconic break like 'rats in a cage'
A LONGTIME Byron Bay surfer and former Greens MP has shared his perspective on safety issues at The Pass after last week's shocking case of surf rage.
Former NSW Upper House member Ian Cohen, who has surfed and swum in the Bay for three decades, has called for proper policing of reported assaults at the overcrowded break.
Last Friday local mal rider Peter Wood suffered a serious hand injury after a stand up paddleboarder dropped in right next to him and trapped his arm between the two boards, with the man's fin slashing Mr Wood's right wrist.
He later needed 10 stitches at Byron hospital.
The SUP rider then abused Mr Wood as if the incident was his fault, even he was bleeding heavily into the water.
Mr Cohen said he was concerned that police hadn't been more proactive about the supporting Mr Wood to press charges on the man, saying his wound was a "silent witness" to the incident.
"Sometimes there needs to be policing and that individual needs to cop the full force of the law," he said.
But while the incident has prompted a call for SUP riders to be banned from the iconic break, Mr Cohen said that was misguided proposition - akin to blaming the surf craft, and not the rider.
He said most SUPers were "older guys" who didn't want to risk injury popping up on a surfboard and were "generally pretty respectful".
"A call to ban a certain type of surfboard is ridiculous," he said.
"No one owns The Pass and people shouldn't act like they own it."
"In my book, the biggest danger of a place like The Pass is people not wearing leg ropes," he said.
The trend of not wearing leg ropes is seen as the ultimate kind of "free surfing" - but is potentially a dangerous ego trip for surfers who claim "they never fall off", especially at a break as crowded as The Pass.
Mr Cohen said he had seen people get hit by stray boards before - and it was worth testing in court whether charges of negligence could apply to such a situation if someone was to get seriously injured as a result.
He also said bad behaviour at The Pass wasn't confined to one type of surf craft, nor was it confined to newcomers and tourists.
"It's a culture of self-entitlement that really needs some adjustment," he said.
"There's often no sense of decency," he said.
"It's a dangerous situation."
He also spoke about an incident with a well known female surfer in her 30s who an aggressive youngster ran over on his surfboard.
"Instead of flatlining and surfing (around) her, he decided to re-enter behind her," he said.
"She had to get carried out of the water."
Mr Cohen said he had also tried to find out the number of admissions to Byron hospital for surf injuries sustained at the break to shed light on the extent of the problem.
He said the toxic combination of crowds, aggression and confined spaces at the break on some days was akin to "rats in a cage".