(April 5, 2013) Ocean City government’s subcommittee for surf beach scheduling held its inaugural meeting this week, putting forward a tentative deal that will seek to solve the economic disadvantage that surfboarders have when it comes to gaining shoreline elbow-room.
What surfers have working against them is that they take up several times the amount of space as the bathers with whom they compete for the beach, but generally don’t spend proportionally more money on lodging and food than the average summer guest.
“You’d think it wouldn’t make a difference if somebody has to walk an extra half a block [around a surfing area] to get to the beach, but to somebody who’s paying ‘x’ amount for a room or a condo, it does,” said committee member Mike Foebler of the Princess Royale.
The committee was formed this past November in response to concerns by local surfers that the city’s designated surf beaches were becoming overcrowded and driving surfers away from the resort.
“I don’t ever go to the beaches in the summer anymore,” said Lee Gerachis of Malibu’s Surf Shop. “It’s life and death out there.”
Proper surfboards, those with fins or those more than 54 inches long, are prohibited on city beaches from the hours of 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. between Memorial Day and Labor Day, and specifically along Boardwalk-adjacent beaches from May 1 to Sept. 30.
During those times, the city has a rotating surfing beach schedule that limits summer daytime surfboard use to two select blocks of beach, which change daily, as well as the southern half of the inlet beach on weekdays only.
The Ocean City Beach Patrol also has the ability to declare a “modified” surf schedule if it is observed that surfing outside the two designated blocks would not present a problem due to a low concentration of bathers on the beach.
However, surfers say this is not enough, given the sport’s recent resurgence in popularity. But with the city’s last undeveloped oceanfront block being built up circa 1980, according to OCBP Captain Butch Arbin, the resort’s beach is now completely lined with hotel and condos whose operators expect the beach in front of their facilities to be available for tourists.
Before this, Arbin said, the OCBP simply reserved unimproved blocks for surfers. But the last three decades have been a careful juggling act.
Local firefighter and surfing enthusiast Mick Chester, who petitioned the city to amend the surf beach system last fall, presented the committee with the idea that the OCBP be given the latitude to “modify” surfing restrictions for select parts of the beach, or for specific hours, instead of lifting the entire restriction for the entire day. This would allow the OCBP to give surfers more leniency when and where needed.
The problem with this, however, is that once beachgoers settle in, they typically don’t want to leave to make way for surfers.
“We don’t want people surprised, we don’t want them to get established [and then change the system] … because then they become hostile,” Arbin said.
Further, despite the promise of social media in notifying the public about changes, “by the time you got word out that surfing was modified, you’d want to un-modify it,” said OCBP Lt. Ward Kovacs. “As soon as you get word out, people start coming in from across the bridge.”
Arbin said that the key to keeping peace on the beach has been the OCBP’s surf beach facilitators, whose major role is to notify beachgoers of the situation when they approach a surfing area. The facilitators also go to the next day’s surf beaches at the end of their shift to notify people there that the beach may not be available.
This requires considerable manpower and Arbin said creating a system as Chester suggested would require even more to make it run smoothly. As an alternative, Kovacs proposed that the OCBP be given the latitude to instead expand any given surf beach by a half-block on either side, doubling its length, when conditions were good. This could be held in effect for the entire day, with little extra strain on the facilitators who are already stationed there.
“If we look at the surf reports, and know [good surf] is coming, we can tell what’s going to happen,” Arbin said. “But the bigger the beach gets, the harder it is to get people out there greeting [bathers] and telling them about it.”
Although the committee’s surfing representatives had interest in creating larger beaches, they generally agreed that eliminating any gray areas was best.
“I’ve kind of changed my tune on the whole flexibility thing,” said Lee Gerachis of Malibu’s Surf Shop. “If it’s black and white, definitive, then there’s not room for discussion or argument.”
As a concession to the desire for more space, Chester further suggested that the OCBP add a third surf beach on weekends when the inlet is closed to surfing. This would require more man-hours – about 4,500, with roughly $50,000 in costs, Arbin said – but might be manageable.
“Let’s look at it financially and see if the council would go for that schedule,” said Councilman Joe Mitrecic.
these surfers are nuts, they do not even use the beaches they get and they want more?? no more surfing beaches, peole cant swim on the beach where they are surfing and it just makes people mad!!! no more sufing beaches!!!
Surfers and bathers don’t mix….just like pedestrians and skateboarder/bicyclists. Why is it okay on the boards, but not a regular sidewalk? Try walking on the boards with a cane and see how close they come to you, like it’s a game. Well, we’ll see who wins that battle.