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Ocean City

Surfing only permitted in designated areas

Kristin Joson

(May 30, 2014) Due to large beach crowds from Memorial Day through Sunfest (third weekend in September), surfing is only permitted in designated areas during the beach patrol’s operating hours of 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.  Seven days a week there are two rotating surfing beaches. On weekdays there is also a third surfing beach set up in the inlet area.  No activity other than surfing is allowed in the surf beach area.

The two rotating surf beaches move two blocks south each day. Based on the current rotation, a specific street block would not have the surfing beach on the same date for over 20 years. So if your family stays on 10th Street the second week in June every year, and the surfing beach were to be on 10th street this year during that week, it would not happen again for the next 20 years. This really isn’t too much to ask to share this wonderful resource with the surfing community.

The third surfing beach operates Monday through Friday and is always in the same location starting at the south rock jetty at the end of Ocean City and extending 200 yards north.  This area was picked because it is usually not crowded on weekdays. Furthermore, it is not safe to swim close to a rock jetty.

On certain days when inclement weather affects Ocean City, the beach patrol captain may allow surfing. This decision is made daily with the input of supervisors on the beach. If there are low numbers of people on the beach, and the weather is poor and not predicted to improve, the surfing ordinance may be modified. There are also other factors taken into consideration when making this decision.  On days of inclement weather, one can ask any SRT on the beach if the surfing ordinance has been modified, or call beach patrol headquarters at 410-289-7556.

There is also a surfing notification service which enables surfers to receive alerts when the surfing rules have been modified allowing surfing on all beaches. To sign up, visit our Web site. Local surf shops may also know when the surfing ordinance has been modified. Even during these conditions swimmers always have the right of way and surfers must be at least 50 yards away from any swimmers and wear a leash at all times (Ocean City ordinance).

Surf beach areas are marked by smaller yellow stands on the particular block designated, one at the north end of the block and the other at the south end. Members of the beach patrol called surf beach facilitators (SBFs) are assigned to work at the surfing beaches.  The SBF makes sure the operation of the surf beach runs smoothly.  They make sure surfers stay within the designated area, while also educating the public and making sure they do not swim or wade in the surf area. The SBF begins their work day at 9 a.m., an hour earlier than the rest of the patrol.  During that time they are talking to beach patrons who are not planning to surf, making sure they understand the surfing beach operation.  To further facilitate the smooth operation of the surfing beaches the SBF will go to the next day’s surfing beach (two blocks south) to inform the beach patrons that the next day their beach will be a surfing beach.

Rules and ordinances similar to this are in effect in many jurisdictions throughout the country. I have heard many young surfers say something to the effect that the surfing beach rules only exist in Ocean City. However, several other beach resort areas like Pacific Beach in San Diego, Ca., run its surf beach very similarly to ours, as does Del Mar, Ca. during its busy season.

The basic concept and bottom line behind the surf beach is safety. Keeping surfers separate from swimmers and waders is a proactive way to keep everyone safe and happy with the way they choose to enjoy the ocean.  Many beach communities throughout the country employ similar rules. To get the daily surfing beach rotation, visit any local surf shop or the beach patrol website at www.ococean.com/ocbp and don’t forget to sign up for the surfing notification service.

At different times during the summer, special event permits will be issued by the Mayor and City Council to hold a surfing event at a section of beach other than the rotating surfing area. These events are usually surfing contests and are attended by hundreds of spectators and competitors and are enjoyable to watch. During these events swimming and wading is prohibited, and the beach patrol will be on duty making sure the event goes smoothly. Although this may cause you to walk half a block to enter the water, remember that surfing is important to the whole beach experience and although it may tie up a few blocks, swimmers still have more than 150 blocks to enjoy.

In July 2012, in an attempt to give more access to the waves for the newer style body boards (Beater Boards), the city council voted to accept the beach patrol’s recommendations to change the (1970s) city ordinance that previously prohibited any body boards over 42 inches. With the change in the ordinance, soft top body boards up to 54 inches with a leash are now legal to be used on any Ocean City beach with the exception of the surfing beaches.

Every once in a while new products and new sports emerge as hot new trends. Sometimes they are old sports that enjoy a resurgence, like skateboarding. But some, like the recent popularity of standup paddle boards have not been seen before. When new water-based activities or products come along, they often impact the beach patrol, like the Beater Boards did a few years ago.

This past winter there was a suggestion raised to an Ocean City council member to allow standup paddle boards (SUPs) to launch from the beach and to paddle along the Ocean City coast during a few weeks in September. This was exciting news since my daughter and I enjoy paddle boarding in Ocean City but currently limit our SUP fun to the bay. Councilman Joe Mitrecic raised the subject at a meeting of the Recreation and Parks Commission this past January. The beach patrol was then asked to develop a pilot program for the 2014 season that would allow SUPs limited access to the ocean during the late season. We solicited ideas and concerns from both experienced beach patrol supervisors as well as owners of local surf shops and stand up paddle board businesses on the subject.

We factored this feedback into a plan that most agreed would be workable, yet safe for all those using the ocean. In summary, the plan would allow SUPs to operate within 200 yards of the beach during the time from the Monday following Labor Day, to Sept. 30, when the prohibition on SUPs would expire under current City Code.

They must wear leashes and will have to obey all state and federal laws, and stay 50 yards from all swimmers, waders and surfers. They will only be allowed when surfing is modified, and will operate only when SRTs deem it safe. The pilot plan was presented to the Commission in February, and was approved to go before the whole Council. The Council approved the plan by unanimous vote, and it went through the process required to amend the City Code. Thirty-one year beach patrol veteran Sergeant Tim Uebel said it best as we embarked on this journey, “We have to keep up with the times and stay current.”  We will continue to keep up with the times, all while honoring our most important commitment of watching after the safety of all those entrusted to our care.

Everyone, local or vacationer, swimmer or surfer, or even SUP enthusiast comes to Ocean City to enjoy the beach. We all just have to share. The key is to follow the rules,  have fun and be alert and mindful of everyone around you.

For more information about surf beaches, contact beach patrol headquarters, 410-289-7556.  Here at the beach patrol our No. 1 priority is your safety, so please keep our slogan in mind and, “Keep your feet in the sand, until the lifeguard’s in the stand!” This simple tip could save a life…. YOURS!


Kristin Josonhttp://oceancitymd.gov/oc/departments/emergency-services/beach-patrol/
Kristin Joson has been working with the Ocean City Beach Patrol for 14 years. She is the Public Education Coordinator where her main responsibility is to work with public to fulfill the first part of the OCBP mission which is Education. The OCBP mission consists of 3 components Education, Prevention, and Intervention. By educating the public about beach safety, we believe there will be fewer instances where an intervention will be necessary. In the offseason, she is an Learning Resource Teacher in Charles County where she is the Testing Coordinator and the Gifted Resource Teacher for Berry Elementary School . The OCBP consists of over 200 men and women dedicated to ocean rescue and maintaining a safe and orderly environment on Ocean City’s beach. The Surf Rescue Technicians guard the beach seven days a week from 10 a.m. – 5:30 p.m. Always introduce yourself to the lifeguard on your beach, they are more than happy to answer any questions you may have.

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