Surfing Outside the Flags Approved on Trial Basis in Surf City

Jul 19, 2017
Photo by: Jack Reynolds

It took the Surf City Borough Council less than an hour to approve surfing outside the flags on all beaches, beginning Monday, July 17, on a trial basis. The decision came after a petition with more than 700 signatures was delivered to Town Hall for inclusion on the council’s agenda, and a presentation that touched on the socioeconomic aspect of the sport.

Councilman Peter Hartney, who oversees beaches and environmental, was absent from the July 12 meeting, but the five members present voted unanimously to allow surfing outside the flags before a nearly standing-room-only crowd mainly of surfers and their families, many of whom spoke prior to the vote. The audience broke out in applause after the vote was taken.

“I am hopeful the decision to allow surfing outside the flagged bathing areas in Surf City will make bathing and surfing ever safer and more enjoyable for our beach patrons,” Surf City Beach Patrol Capt. Mark Dileo said. “On good surfing days, our surfing beach can become crowded.”

Dileo said the new policy should ease the overcrowding by evenly distributing surfers along the borough’s stretch of beaches, noting it’s not unusual for surfers to aid bathers in distress.

Just last month, Casey Deacon, who grew up in Surf City and still spends time there with her family, started the petition after spending the day at the beach with her family – except for her husband, who was 20 blocks away surfing in Ship Bottom. Within the first 36 hours, the petition had 500 signatures from as far away as Samoa, California and Texas, as well as from Island residents and visitors. As of July 12, more than 1,100 people had signed the petition.

The mayor and council did set a few conditions before agreeing to try surfing outside the flags on borough beaches. One, every surfer on the beaches in Surf City must properly display a beach badge, Mayor Francis Hodgson – who didn’t vote in the matter – said prior to the vote being cast.

“There are no guarantees,” Hodgson said. “The laws will be enforced.”

That also includes no changing out of wetsuits in public, a concern brought to the discussion by one resident who said there are surfers who change out of their wetsuits on his street. That shouldn’t be an issue during the summer since the water is generally warm enough for surfers to wear bathing suits, Deacon said.

Other concerns raised during the nearly hour-long discussion included safety and cost to the borough for additional garbage pickup. Frank Troy, whose family has had a home in Surf City for nearly four decades and whose parents live in the borough year ’round, said most surfers are environmentalists and wouldn’t leave trash behind on a beach, or anywhere.

On the safety front, Councilman William Hodgson wanted to know what would happen if a young kid new to surfing just grabbed a board and went out on his own.

“Most surfers are quite adept in the ocean, and can move to a distressed swimmer quickly and use their surfboard as a flotation device until the lifeguard arrives,” Dileo said, adding surfers generally cooperate with lifeguards. “I expect they will stay clear of the bathing areas, especially considering they have all of Surf City outside of the flagged bathing areas to surf.”

Prior to the July 12 vote, Surf City was the only Island municipality to not allow surfing on all beaches; it had one beach designated for just surfers. It’s been a decade since Ship Bottom agreed to allow surfing on all of its beaches, and this year marks the first year Long Beach Township has allowed it, although officials there opened some beaches to surfers a few years ago on a trial basis. Surfers and bathers also coexist on the beaches in Barnegat Light, Beach Haven and Harvey Cedars.

— Gina G. Scala

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