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The Bells Beach surf cam that’s causing major groundswell


surf cam, bells beach, petition

Any keen surfer knows of the value a Surf Cam can provide.

But there’s one at an iconic location in Victoria causing, quite literally, major groundswell.

Swellnet‘s fixed cam at Bells Beach break Winki Pop, which began filming in April 2022, is coming under all kinds of heat; so much so there’s a petition to have it pulled down.

Concerns surrounding surf forecast website’s surf cam at Bells

Major opposition to the livestream camera, which exists on private land, is based on privacy and safety concerns.

“The Bells Beach Surfing Recreational Reserve is an international icon of Australian surfing culture and we oppose unregulated surveillance and corporate exploitation of the reserve where there is no net benefit to the reserve or the community,” the Petition writes.

Bells Beach map, surf cam controversy
A look at the Bells Beach setup and its multiple breaks | Image from the World Surf League (WSL)

Most the concerns, which can be read in full here, appear generic; they apply to basically every surf cam in any surf location, such as ‘the erosion of cultural norms and threat to surfing’s core values’. That can be true at any classic surfing location up or down the coast.

So is any of the pushback actually specific to Bells Beach?

The unique concerns relating to Winki Pop

  • It’s technically unregulated commercial activity using imagery of Crown land
  • Commercial filming is strictly prohibited at Bells Beach except in rare circumstances; the Great Ocean Road Coast and Parks Authority (GORCAPA) requires photographers to pay for a permit to shoot in the reserve

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The ABC spoke to local resident, Darren Noyes-Brown, from not-for-profit conservation organisation the Surfrider Foundation, who strongly opposes the existence of the surf cam.

“We’ve had other surf cams in the area, which we’ve put up with, but having this one is staring right into the guts of Winki Pop is just too far.”

So it’s a conversation where invested parties are asking for nuance.

The main question is: are there legitimate grounds to put a stop to what the surf forecast platform is doing? Well, time will tell.

bells beach
The Bells Beach setup: Winki Pop (left) and the Bowl (right)

Plenty of surfers with experience using surf livestreams disagree with concerns that Winki Pop, specifically, deserves protection from the potential safety issues relating to overcrowding and possible collisions in the water. It’s a reality that locals at many, many breaks deal with on a daily basis.

Other surf reserves like Bondi, Noosa and Margaret River, the other location – along with Bells – that will host a WSL event in 2024, have cameras pointing at the main break, supplying online users the information they’re looking for.

What is Swellnet?

It’s one of a number of surf apps/websites that gives thrill-seekers the opportunity to plan their next surf, or trip to the beach.

These sites provide comprehensive snapshots of beach forecasts; swells, winds, tides and more. And hundreds of locations contain a livestream of the break to complement the overview it provides users.

The bottom line

This is a discussion that may well have much broader implications for surfers right around the country, if concerns relating to privacy and consent to being filmed are validated.

Watch this space.

What are your thoughts? Leave a comment below.

Picture of Phil Prior
Phil Prior
Phil is the editorial lead at Only Sports, bringing more than 12 years of wide-ranging sports media experience to the team. But it’s his unrivalled passion that sets him apart. He also commentates AFL on SEN Radio, plus Rugby on Stan Sport. Find Phil on LinkedIn.

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