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There is no doubt that kiteboarding beaches get more crowded every season. Kiteboarders have faced issues regarding launch access since the earliest days, but as more and more riders show up at the beach conflicts between kiteboarders and other beachgoers will become more common. Unfortunately for us, kiteboarders are still in the minority at most sites, and this means that if we are viewed as a problem by authorities; the easiest solution for them might be to simply ban kiteboarding.
Beach access is something we should all be concerned about if we want to be able to freely kiteboard as the sport expands. To keep our beaches open for kiteboarding, it’s up to us to do something about it, but luckily there are already a few examples about how to go about preserving access that can serve as role models to beaches that might not have had to deal with the issue yet.
Banding together at Belmont
By Paul Lang
On a busy summer weekend at Long Beach’s Belmont shore, upwards of 150 kiters may show up to ride. As one of the most consistent spots for wind in the area during the summer, riders from all over Southern California are drawn to Belmont. The consistent wind, protected water, and huge beach make Belmont a great learning spot for kiteboarders, but this area is also used by swimmers, sailors, windsurfers, and general beachgoers. Currently, there are no looming threats to access here, but that is only due to the fact that the kiteboarding community in the area has banded together to educate riders and keep communication open with the authorities. The kiteboarding community that has been created by riders, local shops/schools, and the local kiteboarding association coming together could serve as a model for other areas that need to pull together to present a unified front to local authorities.
The Southern California Kiteboarding Association (SCKA, www.scka.org) has been very active in building a local kiteboarding community, meeting with authorities, and educating riders about the local rules. “We work very closely with the lifeguards. We have very open access at Belmont and an open relationship with the lifeguards. We meet at the beginning of the season to discuss any issues they might have,” said Dan Corbett, current President of the SCKA. At Belmont, access is open, but there are rules about kiteboarding that are enforced by the lifeguards. “There are some riders that have the opinion that we are too restrictive and that there are already too many rules,” said Corbett. “But we only educate people about the rules, we didn’t create any of them. The rules are written into the Long Beach municipal code and we work with the lifeguards to interpret them.”
There are many ways that people learn the rules when they show up to Belmont, the most obvious of which is a huge sign that explains them. Local schools set up on the beach and are very proactive in educating kiters that are new to the area. However, because there is such a strong community at Belmont, the lifeguards rarely have to get involved and the kiteboarders self-regulate when there is a problem. The SCKA has appointed lead contacts for each beach so that lifeguards have someone they can easily contact if they have a concern about kiteboarding and they do everything possible to educate riders about the rules.
As the designated contact for the lifeguards to turn to if they have an issue at Belmont, Kitesurfari’s Robert McCullough feels that having a direct and open line of communication with the lifeguards benefits everyone. “The lifeguards have a very specific contact they know will back them up when there is a problem. They have plenty to do during the summer and are happy they don’t often have to get involved because someone from the kiter community has already stepped in when there is a problem. Kiters get a number of chances at Belmont. Usually at least one experienced kiter, instructor, or Kitesurfari staff member takes the time to explain the rules. If they just can’t listen, the lifeguards are fine with stepping in and issuing a stronger warning. If someone gets fined, they really had to work to get there,” said Robert.
Belmont has a strong community in large part because of the efforts of the SKCA. The SCKA works hand in hand with the local kiteboarding businesses and even offers a discount card to members to use at local shops. Membership in the SCKA is only $10/year and they organize an annual safety clinic and a kiteboarding demo event where manufacturers bring their latest gear for riders to try. “From our perspective, the kiter community at Belmont is quite strong,” said Robert. “It’s a great mix – There are the curious who will one day be kiters, but haven’t left the safety of the beach chairs just yet, the beginners brought to the area by the different schools, the professional instructors that everyone knows, and the more experienced locals, some of them known affectionately as the Trashcan Gang. The community is most in evidence when the wind is almost ready, the sense of expectation putting everyone in a good mood.”
Because the majority of the kiters in the area recognize the importance of being a proactive and self-enforcing group, most problems with individual kiters are never brought to the lifeguard’s attention and as a result, access is likely to be open here for a very long time.
Fighting for Access in Florida
By Rick Iossi
Access problems started early in Southern Florida with our first kiteboarding bans developing almost ten years ago. Concerned riders formed the Florida Kitesurfing Association (FKA) and met with authorities, identified problems and solutions, circulated rules among riders, and largely got things reopened. Problem behaviors such as showing off close to shore and near swimmers continue at times despite these efforts. Access issues have developed at many launches throughout the state and have been successfully dealt with in many cases. Let’s look at a few specific instances.
Kiting was almost banned here in 2003. Ironically, the crisis was triggered by mistaking kiters with an airborne powered paragliding voyeur ogling strippers at a pool party. Historically, kiteboarders had aggravated things by riding and throwing tricks among swimmers and flying kites on the beach in lifeguarded areas. Arguments supporting kitesurfing were made during city commission hearings by local kiting leaders. Eventually an ordinance was drafted forbidding kiting within 100 yards of lifeguarded beaches. Fortunately kiting was allowed to continue at unguarded beaches. Eventually, most local riders supported the short list of things necessary to keep kiting here and access threats have diminished.
There aren’t many kiters that live or even ride here, but this small town has had more than its share of access issues. A few riders have insisted upon riding near swimmers and close to the pier, jumping bystanders, and generally showing off and causing complaints to the Sheriff’s office. One rider even tried to out run deputies resulting in his arrest. The town commission was considering an outright ban of the sport due to the actions of a misguided few. The FKA met with authorities in 2004, evaluated problems, and proposed solutions. The Sheriff’s office countered with a proposal to register kiters at the town hall and require flying of identifying streamers and carrying of ID cards. The area was problem free for several years, but things heated up again in 2009, aggravated by people riding inside the swimming zone buoys, causing complaints. Dozens of concerned kiters spent about 20 hours in meetings to show solidarity and support of a measured response by the town. No further action appears to be underway with regard to access at this time, but it’s certain that if complaints continue, the town will respond by restricting kiters’ privileges or banning the sport. Avoiding complaints is easy, if we try. Efforts to self-enforce and build peer pressure against problem behaviors have been underway for years with mixed results.
Matheson Hammock, Miami
Matheson Hammock has been a favorite flat water kiting venue for locals for over ten years. There is a paved parking lot, a 5’ to 10’ wide beach, and a lot of shallow water. This launch can have gusty winds and kiters standing too close to shore or in the parking lot while grabbing things out of cars with kites still flying or boosting near shore have contributed to a number of accidents. Further aggravating the situation were large numbers of instructors illegally teaching without city licenses or insurance. Kent Marikovic, Todd Greaux, and the rest of the team from Adventure Sports Miami (ASM) became concerned about losing this spot and undertook a costly and labor intensive concession concept. This was accompanied by extensive discussions with authorities. ASM requires proof of PASA or IKO Level III certification or passage of an exam at a nominal fee. Kiters must register, consent to the rules, and fly a streamer on their kite. Kiteboarding instruction is available through licensed and insured instructors. Variations of this concept are being considered at a few other congested launch venues in the region.
Hobie Beach, Miami
Hobie Beach borders a busy roadway connecting mainland Miami with Key Biscayne. The launch can have gusty winds and there have been accidents over the years which have been an annoyance for the authorities. Also, quite a few unlicensed instructors would teach here. To the authorities, this is a roadway right of way and kiteboarders are way down the list of priorities. There has been talk of banning kiting here on and off for many years. Solutions have been promoted to kiters for just as many years. A lot of pressure would come off kiting at this spot if kiters would launch and land near the swim buoys and ride beyond them, watch the weather for squalls, and not routinely ride in the swim zone. Kiting was recently halted at Hobie pending completion of major work in the area. Work is still underway, but it is uncertain if kiting will be permitted to resume after the work is done.
Protecting kiting access, should be fairly easy for individual riders. Showing off close to shore may be fun for some riders but is it worth the potential loss of access? The short answer should be no! Peer pressure can be a powerful thing. Don’t let a few guys threaten your ability to ride. Get organized and get involved to be able to focus on the important stuff, getting out on the water!
The Opposite of a Ban: Fiji’s Surf Decree
By Paul Lang
Recently, the surfing world was rocked by a big change in Fiji. Previously, it was possible to own not only the reef below the water, but also the wave that broke above it. This led to exclusive resorts holding monopolies on the best surf breaks in Fiji. Basically, if you wanted to surf at the best breaks in Fiji, you had to stay in certain resorts. Even if you approached by boat, you would be told to leave. As of July of this year, everyone has the right to surf any break in Fiji. There are no more exclusive waves anywhere in Fiji, and guess what? It gets windy there too.
“With the introduction of the new surfing decree the surf travel industry in Fiji is set to explode,” said Adam Yared of Triple T Industries, a travel company specializing in surfing, kiteboarding, and fishing in Fiji. For kiteboarders as well as surfers, this decree is big news. A hugely untapped resource for wind and waves has just been opened. “There are more surfers in the water, but the numbers are now spread out among the different breaks giving everybody an opportunity to surf where they wish,” said Adam. With most kiteboarding locations dealing with the potential of more rules instead of fewer, the Fijian surf decree is a breath of fresh air. There are more than 300 islands in Fiji, and every wave in the country just opened up to anyone who can access them.