Cornwall Council has run out of money to pay for repairs to coastal areas which were battered in the recent storms. There is no likelihood of Newlyn green being a green again anytime in the near future. Sinkholes will remain sinkholes, debris will continue to festoon the sea front and as for Jubilee Pool ever regaining its former splendour, forget it.
But there is hope. The Council is soon to unveil a pioneering new scheme to shore up its coffers, pay for repairs and add to the annual bonus pool for senior personnel. On 1 May, officers will start patrolling key surfing beaches in West Cornwall, such as Sennen Cove, Godrevy and Praa Sands. They will be tasked with counting the number of waves ridden by surfers, in order to levy a new wave tax at the end of every session.
"Waves caused all the damage in the first place," said Councillor Axel Dawe, newly appointed as Chief Wave Count Officer. "We rather like the idea that waves will now be used as a means of returning Newlyn green and the Jubilee Pool to their former glory."
Dawe explained that different taxation bands will apply. "A surfer who paddles out and rides 10 waves in the course of a session will be charged £1.00 per wave. A wave count of between 11 and 20 waves will result in a charge of £1.50 for each wave after the first 10 waves. Then, all waves after the 20th wave will be taxed at £2.00 each."
Asked if such a system was punitive on pro surfers and Stef Harkon - who need to ride as many waves as possible so that they can 'rip it up' (as surfers say) - Dawe admitted that the new policy could have this effect. However, he justified it, saying that the wave count tax had been designed not only to maximise revenue but also to keep crowds in the line-up down. "Surfers will have to pick their waves carefully, so that they don't tax themselves out of the water," said Dawe. "The likes of Seb Smart, Sam Bleakley, Alan Stokes and James Parry will have to be very, very careful. But if they do run up such a high bill that they can't afford to surf, that means more waves for everyone else."
The wave tax will be administered on the spot. "Surfers will be told how many waves they've ridden at the end of each session," confirmed Dawe. "They will then be given a chit stating the amount payable. If they don't have any money on them we will apply to the courts for an attachment of earnings order."
Alternatively, surfers can register to pay monthly by direct debit.
Asked how the council could be sure of the number of waves ridden by surfers, Dawe said that he had offered jobs to a number of local photographers, including Greg Martin and Mike Newman, and another photographer from 'up the line', Tony Plant. "I'm hoping they will accept the prestigious role of photographing surfers for the Council. Their job will be to record, on digital film, the number of waves ridden by each surfer. They will then download their images, catalogue them and send them to the centrally based Wave Count team. We can't afford to pay them a salary but we can allow £2.75 per week for fully-itemised expenses. Hopefully the knowledge that they are contributing to such a good cause will be reward enough."
Dawe said that he had support from "many quarters" for the wave count tax. "We've been overwhelmed by how many people want to make surfers pay for their insistence on leading hedonistic lives which put a premium on pure pleasure and contribute so little to the greater good," he said. "Second home owners and retirees from other counties in particular have welcomed the scheme. If Cornwall is not for them, what is it for?"
Thankfully, there were not one but two silver linings for the surf community - a waiver of the wave count tax on Wednesday mornings between 5.00 and 6.00am, and no charge at all for anyone who rides under five waves in a session. This news was welcomed by Britain's still functioning if little read surf writer, Porthcurno-refugee Alex Wade, who said (while thinking of another way to mention Amazing Surfing Stories): "Those of us who struggle to get to our feet are in luck. I personally only ever ride about three waves per session, and lately haven't been riding any waves at all."
John Navin declined to comment.
Pictured courtesy of Jim Wileman: Stef Harkon throws his hands up when he hears about the wave tax.