There's little need to convince you of the importance of Mundaka to the global surf community. It's not an unaccessible, off the radar mutant, worthy only of short lived social media love, nor is it some glorified closeout in front of a manufactured surf town. Mundaka is a classy taste of European surf culture and undoubtedly one of surfing's greatest assets. So when news of a beach restoration project including the removal 40,000 cubic metres of sand from the Mundaka sandbar, alarm bells echoed round the wave riding community.
So what's the deal with so much sand being removed in the first place? On the other side of Mundaka's river sits the beach of Laida, which – like much of Europe – felt the affects of the severe storms of the 2013/2014 winter and as a result the beach is almost non-existent on high tide. The government's problem here is that they estimate this small stretch of sand on the river to be visited by 210,000 tourists annually, generating in the region of 4.8 million Euros. Put that to the background of a struggling Spanish economy and the government want their beach back.
Classified as 'urgent', the project's status negated the need for an environmental impact study prior to work going ahead. As a spokesman for local surfers, Sancho Rodriguez feels that in not working closely with them to decide how sand is removed, the authorities have made a mistake, creating an intense feeling of 'us vs. them'.
If Mundaka is not a world class wave, the image of Basque surfing would be greatly affected.
"I understand that there is a conflict of interest, that different parts have to coexist and that Ibarrangelu needs a dry beach," says Sancho. "But I don't think we have to confront the income generated by the wave of Mundaka against the income of the beach in Ibarrangelu. Mundaka is probably one of the biggest assets to the European surf industry, of all the Basque Country, and if Mundaka is not a world class wave, the image of Basque surfing would be greatly affected."
The roadblock is that waves don't have any kind of legal protection. "They don't qualify as monuments, natural landmarks, or wildlife," he continues. "Surfing has to mature and we need to be respected in society. Maybe we need to have a surfer as Lehendakari (president of the Basque Government) to be legit."
The significance of surfing and its natural assets to the economy are often sidelined, and this certainly isn't the first time that Basque surfers have felt ignored. With painful memories of previous sand alterations still firmly in locals' minds, it's feared that a repeat of 2003 – when the wave's quality failed to produce a barrel for the following two years – is about to unfold.
We can only wait for the first swells of the season to see how the sandbar will cope.
Scientist and respected local surfer Pedro Liria is arguably the most informed researcher on the movements of the Urdabaia rivermouth. Based on his research, AZTI – a science and technology centre specialising in oceanography – propose several techniques for solution. The first would be not to act, the second is an intervention to restore access to the beach and a small quantity of sand (5000 cubic meters). Third is the reconstruction of an artificial dry sand beach. Fourthly to help the natural flow of sand from the north/east part of the beach up to the beach by ploughing the sand with tractors so it moves more easily to the dry sand of Laida.
"Simply by the pure logic of taking a mountain of sand from in front of the sandbar, we can only wait for the first swells of the season to see how the sandbar will cope," worries Sancho. In response, AZTI say it's impossible to know, but that if the sandbank is not working to its former glory in the autumn of 2015, they are certain that everybody will blame the extraction.
Surfing has to mature and we need to be respected in society.
"Until then, we can only do our homework and work together to create a single, powerful voice representing the surf world in front of the institutions," says Sancho, highlighting the need for a committee to represent surfers going forward in future intervention potentially threatening wave quality. "For anybody who surfs, who has an interest in the environment and wants to have a real effect on politics, being active members of our society, not at the mercy of contradictory decisions made by politicians.
"It doesn't matter if you've never surfed it. It doesn't matter if you went once and you were snaked, or if you experienced tension in the lineup. It doesn't matter if you are from the village, from Getxo, Algorta, Giputxi. If you are in the Federation or not. Every surfer needs to rally together so the institutions feel we are united in taking care of our coastline, knowing that we represent thousands of people and jobs in the surf industry. The global surf community will stand with the Basque Country against any activity that risks the few world class waves we've got."