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Surfing beaches now conditional on franchise vendor operation

(May 3, 2013) Ocean City’s subcommittee for surf beach scheduling made a minor tweak to its plans this week in response to concern from beach concessionaires that additional closings would unduly affect their business.

Last month, the City Council OKd the committee’s plan to give surfers more elbow room during the upcoming summer, when beaches are crowded with bathers. This year, the city will be stipulating that the Ocean City Beach Patrol has the ability to double the size — from one block to two — of both rotating surf beaches, depending on how much demand it anticipates given the quality of the surfing conditions.

The Beach Patrol will also have the discretion to keep the designated surf beach at the inlet – normally closed on summer weekends – open through the next-to-last weekend in June and again beginning the next-to-last weekend in August, conditional on the density of swimmers.

But this presents a problem to beach equipment vendors, who pay the city for the rights to sell chairs and umbrellas on certain sections of beach under a franchise system.

“The inlet is split into three parcels,” explained franchise owner Will Edmonds. “I currently have the south inlet, which is the largest parcel and is also where the surf beach is, which I knew when I bid on it.”

However, Edmonds said, the previously unplanned-for possibility that he inlet beach would be open for an additional seven weekends — during times in which he normally opens his rental stands — could cut into his business.

“For me, that time was 30 percent of my revenue last year,” he said. “On six of those seven weekends, that was my biggest concession, even bigger than the ones I have in front of some of the big hotels up north.”

But the committee, and especially the OCBP, took Edmonds’ concern as a potential safeguard for the new system. Instead of being subjective to the Beach Patrol’s estimations of how many bathers will show up versus how many surfers, the opening of the inlet will depend on the concessionaires. If they do not anticipate enough beach business to open, surfing will be allowed

“It takes away the gray area. If the beach stand operator is not there, we’ll allow surfing,” OCBP Lt. Ward Kovacs proposed.

The same requirement will be imposed when it comes to the possibility of expanding the surf beaches below 27th Street, because the beach stand franchises along the Boardwalk are smaller parcels — a single block — than those above, which are three blocks or more.

“If we extend any surf beach in the south district, what we’re in effect doing is cutting off two entire beach stand operations for the day,” Kovacs said.

Committee member and long-time local surfer Rick Pairo also asked that the OCBP closely monitor bather density in the afternoon. If swimmers are packing in early, the OCBP could declare a “modified” schedule when surfing is allowed anywhere outside of 50 yards from the nearest swimmer.

“There are a lot of times, early and late in the season, where the beach is completely thinned out by 4 p.m.,” Pairo said. “We’re just asking for a little consideration.”


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