SUMMER surfing crowds are so intense that a veteran local surfer has warned he is more worried about a death in the water from a surfboard collision than a shark attack.
Prime surf breaks from Lennox Head to Broken Head and The Pass at Byron Bay were packed yesterday, with the conditions bringing boardriders out in droves.
January is always crowded, but Byron Bay surf photographer and writer Ben Bennink said it was the "craziest summer" he had ever witnessed.
"It's very intense in the water at the moment," Mr Bennink said. "The crowds in the water have changed - there's an attitude there.
"I know a lot of people who have just gone to ground. They've said 'that's it, I'm just not surfing'.
"It's only a matter of time (before someone gets hurt)."
Mr Bennink admitted overcrowding at breaks across the North Coast had been an issue for several years, but it was getting worse.
"Surfing has become extremely popular and there's a lot more people in the water with less experience," he said.
"What I see now is a lot of people who just grab a board and think 'let's try surfing' and naturally they just see a crowd and say 'let's go there'."
The problem of learners not being aware or in control, and surfers "dropping in" on others also made frustration "spread like contagion" through the line up, Mr Bennink said.
"When it gets crowded, the nature of the crowd changes ... there's more aggression," he said. Asked for a solution, he struggled to suggest one, except for learners staying away from crowds, and experienced surfers waiting their turn.