March 8, 2022 | By Graeme Kemlo
Make no mistake, surf culture is a multi-million dollar business, especially along Victoria’s Surf Coast, home to some of the industry’s best known global brands. And on the eve of the Rip Curl Pro Bells Beach event which will bring some of the world’s best surfers to Victoria next month, the local shire has just approved the development of a $36.8 million Surf Coast Cultural Centre.
The local mayor Libby Stapleton said the project would “strengthen the Surf City precinct as a destination”.
The Easter event at Bells Beach, which has endured two years of cancellation due to COVID, is expected to attract 35,000 to 45,000 visitors and inject between $7 million and $8 million into the local economy.
Among other things, the new centre, due for completion in two stages by 2030, will expand the Australian National Surfing Museum, which currently houses 12,000 items and is regarded as an internationally significant collection. It will also feature a visitor information centre and a multi-arts centre with a 250-seat theatre.
Surf Coast Shire, which includes the popular coastal destinations of Lorne, Anglesea, Torquay and Bells Beach, is about 75 minutes’ drive south west of Melbourne. Its population of about 30,000 triples in size during the holidays, but many locals commute to work in Melbourne.
Torquay earned the Surf City moniker as it has fostered the development of global surf brand headquarters for the likes of Rip Curl, Quiksilver, Modom, Bellroy and Strapper.
The Great Ocean Road also officially starts in Torquay and attracts more than 2.5 million travellers a year, but for the past two years much of this, as part of the international visitor economy, has been missing.
As one of the state’s fastest growing regions, the Surf Coast has decided that rather than waiting for the international visitor economy to eventually return, it should focus on the business of surfing which it reports is worth more than $217 million a year in industry value-add – the equivalent of 20-34 full time jobs.
Stapleton said the Surf Coast Cultural Centre “will bring significant economic benefit for the region…the construction phase is projected to support a total of 148 jobs, and a completed stage one is forecast to inject an additional $243 million in direct and indirect tourist expenditure in the Great Ocean Road region, supporting more than 750 jobs”.
Council has committed $8.06 million to the first stage and is seeking $28.8 million in state and/or federal government grants, election commitments or philanthropic contributions.