23 May, 2016 23 May, 2016

Durban’s beloved Bay of Plenty pier: Past, present and future

An article by Udo Richard Averweg and Dr Andrew Mather

Durban is known as ‘Surf City’ and the Golden Mile (locally referred to as ‘the Mile’) is the name ascribed to the well-known (and well-used) stretch of beachfront running across the city’s snaking shoreline. The Mile runs from South Beach (from around uShaka Marine World) all the way up to the glitzy Suncoast Casino in the north. Rich in surfing history, ‘the Mile’ has produced many world champions including Shaun Tomson, Martin Potter, Grant ‘Twiggy’ Baker and Jordy Smith.

Today, more and more surfers can be seen running along ‘the Mile’ – sand in hair, boards under arms, paddling out along the piers from sunrise ‘til sunset. But with the City of Durban trying to boost its tourism destination rep, there are more initiatives being undertaken to spearhead Durban’s unique brand of surfing into the future…


Surf legend Shaun Tomson. Image © Pat Flanagan / SA Surfing Legends.

Since the International Surf Business Indaba, held at Durban’s Maharani Hotel on 3 July 2015, there has been much effort placed on refocusing Durban as Africa’s prime surfing destination. One such initiative is that the City of Durban is a member of the World Surf Cities Network (WSCN). The WSCN is a network of nine cities around the world of similar size and known for their respective surf conditions. Durban’s Mile has a unique set of surf conditions, with the wide stretch of golden sands artificially separated by various piers. This, among many other things, is what makes ‘the Mile’ a sought after international surf haven.


Durban’s Golden Mile, famous piers and endless waves. Image © Greg Ewing

Since surfing ‘officially’ commenced in Durban in the 60s, Dairy Pier and Bay of Plenty have become synonymous with surfing. By 1981 Durban’s Bay of Plenty had become the epicentre of competitive surfing; with as many as twenty thousand spectators once watching the world’s best surfers fight it out in the ‘Theatre of Dreams’.

There’s no doubt that Durban’s piers hold a rich historical significance to the lifestyle sport of surfing and in an ode to the rich culture of ‘the Mile’, we hone in on the Bay of Plenty pier by revisiting articles on this famous man-made structure which have appeared in many issues of Zigzag over the years.

Take a paddle down memory-pier with us as we dig up some old beef, big debates and shed some light on the new project currently underway at Durban’s beloved “Bay”…


Those countless late afternoon runs down the pier… Image © Greg Ewing

From the Zigzag archives

Over the past 25 years discussion of the piers have featured in numerous issues of Zigzag Magazine. In the January 1981 edition of Zigzag (page 9 to be exact) there was an article dealing with the following issue: “Another major controversy has erupted in Durban. Plans are afoot to replace the groynes at the Bay of Plenty and Dairy Beach with submerged ones in a bid to stop the erosion on the beaches”.

Later that same year, there was an article (in the March 1981 issue of Zag, pages 10 and 11) by Dr. Harry Swart entitled ‘An Ode to the Tube Factory’. Dr Swart argued that the Durban City Council’s plans and move to replace the Paterson groynes could ruin the world-famous perfect Bay of Plenty waves. In his article, Dr Swart outlined a “scientific viewpoint to this move”. Two months later in the May 1981 issue of Zag (pages 10 and 11), Dr Ken Tinley stated that “Dr Harry Swart’s article on tubular wave formation at the Bay of Plenty and beach improvement scheme (vol. 5, no. 2) is self contradictory on fundamental principles of coast processes and surf dynamics”. He advocated that “a fresh look at the problem is imperative”.

Since these articles appeared over twenty years ago, there has been much (metaphorically speaking) water under the bridge, more surfers shredding at Bay and a new development project that is currently underway at the Bay of Plenty pier. But before we get into that; hows about a quick history lesson…


Bay of Plenty pier under construction. Image © Greg Ewing

Bay of Plenty pier: History 101

The Paterson groynes were built between 1954 and 1956 in an effort to counteract the severe beach erosion on the shoreline of the Golden Mile. These groynes existed until the early 1980s and were then replaced by the Bay of Plenty pier. The change came about as part of a wider shoreline protection strategy adopted by the Durban City Council to re-establish a soft, sandy shoreline which had been adversely affected by poor development practice (reclamation from the sea).

There was also the interruption of the litoral drift over the Durban harbour entrance which had resulted in a sand deficit situation along most of the Golden Mile. At that time, the thinking was to move away from hard structures, such as groynes, to a softer (and perhaps closer to nature) structure. From this was born the semi-permeable groyne. The idea was increased sand transport throughout the length of the structure as opposed to the Paterson groynes channeling sand along its length and around the head of the pier.

This change had two major impacts for the beach amenity and surfing conditions. Firstly, the underwater sand-bar which formed at the end of the old Paterson groyne was significantly reduced (much of the sand escaped through the new semi-permeable structure). This resulted in a reduction of the size and consistency of the wave-break at the head of the Paterson groyne. Secondly, the platform of the water-edge changed from a very ‘saw-tooth edge’ (as depicted in Figure 1) to what is accepted as a preferable situation of a more uniform water’s edge.


Water’s edge and beach with old Paterson groynes. Image Source: eThekwini Municipality

Problems with the Bay of Plenty pier

While these changes resulted in improvements to the visible beach, there were two significant changes that precipitated poorer surfing quality waves and increased risks to surfers (and swimmers) adjacent to the Bay of Plenty pier. The first problem was the reduction of the underwater sand bar at the head of the pier, which was responsible for good and consistent wave-breaks. The second problem was that the permeability of the structure to sand carried by water tends to suck surfers paddling along the pier into the core of the pier and into a hazardous situation where many surfers suffered cuts and abrasions (a.k.a barnacle bashing) from the marine growth on the pier’s concrete columns.
In addition to these concerns, it was identified that the structural integrity of this pier could be compromised due to the scour effects on the seabed around a significant area of the pier. The deep scour hole (depicted in blue in Figure 2) is located adjacent to the founding piles.


Seabed scour around the head of the pier. Image Source: eThekwini Municipality

Addressing the Bay of Plenty pier issues

eThekwini Municipality has commenced addressing the issues discussed above. The rock levels within the pier have been raised to reduce some of the permeability and a resultant reduction in risk to surfers being pulled into the belly of the pier. Additional sand pumping lines have been positioned along the length of the piers in order for the sand discharge to be focused towards the head of the pier. Fingers crossed that this will address the scour hole and start to build up the long-shore sand bar at the head of the pier.

The impacts of these interventions on seabed changes will be closely monitored by city officials and once regular sand re-nourishment has taken place, it will also be important for the surfing community to provide feedback on the changing characteristics of the wave-break at the head of this pier. If it’s kak – speak up!


Some small tubes forming to left of Bay of Plenty pier. Image © Greg Ewing

A renewed ‘Theatre of Dreams’ at Bay of Plenty?

There is a shared vision by both coastal engineers and surfers that during the next few years and using a combination of the measures discussed above, that the surfing conditions will be improved and the structural integrity of the Bay of Plenty pier is secured. Such emergent conditions shall catalyse a renewed ‘theatre of dreams’ at the Bay of Plenty pier area and recreate an epicentre for future generations of surfing. As advocated for at the International Surf Business Indaba, this Bay of Plenty initiative may serve to refocus Durban as Africa’s prime surfing destination.

Viva that.

Udo Richard Averweg is an Information Technology Project Manager. Dr Andrew Mather is a professionally registered engineer. This article has been written in the authors’ personal capacities and mildly edited for the Zigzag audience.

Images © Greg Ewing


    4 December, 2016 at 10:38 am · Reply

    Bobby Joubert and I built all the ” JOUBERT ” surfboards in East London .
    We were also on the committee that hosted the first Gunston 500…Brad Mc Call ..Randy Rarrick +
    Do you have any pics of the event on record ,
    Please send to my email address .
    My first surfboard was Clive Barber’s no 5 .
    Our surf team comprised Dave Hansen .Dave Fish ,Roger Taylor, Jackie Hardwich .Mike Hornsey
    and our PE gang were Philippa Hulett , Gavin Rudolph, Buddha Horn .
    In 1969 I took off a year…got into US on a single ticket..wangled a green ticket and landed a job with Dewey Weber Surfboards …we built 250 boards a week .I had the pleasure of having Nat Young ( 69 WORLD CHAMP ) watch me laminate his ” SKI “….and did the color designs on David Nueheva’s ( spelling ! ) board . ( David was the nose riding champ of that decade ) Other highlights were ..meeting Nancy ( Hang Ten ) in Hawaii…Monterey POP FESTIVAL ( warm up for Woodstock ) ..where a shared a d#b$e with Jimmy Hendrix ! Pierre Hugo .

  2. Bradley Van Rooi
    22 June, 2017 at 10:54 pm · Reply


    I am doing a mini-doc for a non-profit TV program in Toronto about the demolition of a surf spot in Toronto, Canada. In the interview a Durban expat talks about the Bay of Plenty. Is it possible to use one of your stills for the program. I would credit Zig Zag, or whoever needs crediting.

    Bradley Van Rooi

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