“Surfers? They’re a bunch of fools who must think the waves break from land to sea. So what if the waves break here or 45 feet further in the water? The waves will always be the same.” Such words, by the president of Madeira, Mr. Alberto Joao Jardim, pretty much sums up the results of the Save the Waves Coalition’s recent protest on the mid-Atlantic isle. Incensed that the Madeiran government, after agreeing not to, proceeded with the building of a seawall at the famed righthand point, Jardim do Mar, a small army of international surfers stormed the island in late Sept. and made their frustrations known. According to Coalition leaders like Will Henry, the seawall is guaranteed to create backwash and other undesirable bump at the perfect, big-wave right. Notorious for conducting his 25-year rule with an iron fist on any kind of criticism or opposition, Mr. Jardim stated to a local newspaper that the whole issue was nothing but “folklore fueled by pseudo-environmentalists and local economy underminers who represent the kind of barefoot tourism we don’t want for Madeira. Go surf elsewhere!”This backlash came as no surprise to some of the locals involved in the STW-sponsored protests. “That’s so typical of him! If you point a finger at him, he’ll try to break it,” stated one Jardim do Mar inhabitant who opted to remain anonymous out of fear that his finger might be broken.
During the weekend demonstration, STW organized a series of conferences in a hotel in the center of Funchal, Madeira’s capital. Frenchman Gibus de Soultrait, Editor of Surf Session magazine and the French edition of The Surfer’s Journal, as well as an active member of the European chapter of Surfrider Foundation, accounted of his and his brothers’ groundbreaking missions to Madeira in the mid-’70s. This was followed by a long series of speeches from a wide range of experts, including geologists, biologists, environmental activists and surfers. The massive human interference all over the Madeiran shores not only screws up the waves; it also damages its fragile coastal ecosystem of migrating birds, mating grounds and the already scarce fish population. After the conference, a “Hundred Surfers March” crossed Funchal at rush hour, chanting and displaying messages against the unchecked development. The parade drew sympathy from some islanders and the occasional sarcastic comment from the many locals who feel surfers are overreacting and standing in front of Madeira’s “progress”. The following day, about two dozen surfers paddled out at Calheta Beach, mid-way between Funchal and Jardim do Mar, forming a circle and shouting a few more rounds of protest slogans.President Jardim, who’s famous for his fiery speeches, is the absolute ruler of Madeira since 1978. He once said “I feel important when I learn that people hate me. I love it!”And now, it seems, he has his sites set on surfing. The first victim was a Portuguese national circuit event scheduled for November in Madeira. According to promoter Antonio Pedro, it was canceled due to lack of local support. “They said surfing does not represent a valuable resource for Madeira, making the contest impossible to run,” he said. If Mr. Jardim feeds on hate, he’s sure stepping up to a feast in the surf world. — Joao Valente/Surf Portugal