(Feb. 21, 2014) Although actual implementation is still a long way away, the city has plans to allow stand-up paddleboards along city beaches toward the end of the coming season.
The city’s Recreation and Parks Commission gave a favorable reception to permitting paddleboards along the coastline on a limited basis this September, when the water is still warm but the population of bathers has died down.
“I personally don’t know why you would want to do it, but I get it that going and seeing how it works is a good test,” said Shelly Dawson of the OC Surf Club. “I don’t see it being a problem the way you have it set up.”
Paddleboards currently do not fall within the city’s guidelines for bodyboards, which are allowed on the beach during the summer months, or surfboards, which are allowed only on a rotating section of beach during the season to separate them from swimmers.
Under the proposed pilot program, paddleboards will be allowed under the same strictures as surfboards, but only after Labor Day, and only when the surf beach schedule has been declared “modified.” This is done when lifeguards are still on duty, but there are few swimmers, allowing surfers to spread out anywhere they’d like as long as they remain 50 yards away from bathers.
After Sept. 30, when the Ocean City Beach Patrol is off-duty, any type of equipment is allowed in the water.
Restricting paddleboards to “modified” days will prevent them from encroaching on the surfers on days when they area already confined to a small stretch.
“The surfers are adamant that they don’t’ want them on their beaches,” said OCBP Lt. Ward Kovacs.
Paddleboards will have to keep the same distance from others as surfers do, and will be required to wear a leash attaching them to their board. By state law, they are also required to have a whistle and life vest.
Although some paddleboarders may try to catch waves, it is assumed that most will move north-south beyond the break point of the waves. Even if beyond the breakers, Kovacs said, paddleboards should still be required to stay within 200 yards of the beach.
“There’s an assumption that if you launch off the beach, we’re responsible for them,” Kovacs said. “Therefore we’d want them to stay in an area where we could actually go get them if something happens.”
Although paddleboarding in the ocean seems less favorable than in the bay, Dawson said he has never seen much conflict between surfers on Assateague and any paddleboards that may come through.
“You can be a wave hog…but there’s a certain respect and understanding that people have,” Dawson said. “With everyone kept 50 yards apart, you could have a ball and not bother anybody.”