John and all interested SUP’ers.
My name is Tim Ryan, and I am an SUP’er. This weekend was the first anniversary of my addiction, and I was looking forward to celebrating. I am so stoked about this sport, that I conned my wife into letting us buy a place by my favorite little SUP spot in Dana Point. Well, the honeymoon was officially over this weekend. I had been hassled at this spot by the lifeguards before, but never too seriously, with a lot of “looking away.” Not so any longer.
On Friday morning I was out before dawn. Paddled up to Salt Creek where it was small and surprisingly uncrowded. Took a few waves, talked to some friends, talked to some people who want to rip my eyes out because I like doing something that they are too embarrassed to try… but generally had fun and shared the ALOHA. Didn’t take any set waves (as usual). I was trying out a new (to me) Craig 7’6” two plus one. (7’6” by 31 by 4 1/8… I think I am going to order one that is an inch narrower… with a stinger… a swallow tail, and a quad as the tail area seemed too wide for the 2+1… I spun out on a few critical bottom turns… oh well… just working it out.) I worked out the basic balance issues at the Strand, figured out the paddle entry angle, and rode a couple of small waves before heading up to Creek. Spent about 45 minutes at Creek, and headed up to the Dana Headlands, surfing the shorebreak… trying to find workable shoulders.
As I was heading back to my towel and skateboard, a lifeguard went into the water after me… mind you, it was 9:00 a.m., with no one on the beach… and no one (I mean no one) in the water. I was getting out of the water and met her at the shorebreak. She told me that SUP’s are not allowed to be launched or landed at any beach at the Strand or Salt Creek. I asked for her authority, and she provided me with the number to the US Ocean Safety Headquarters. Armed with this information, and fuming. But at least she was hot.
The next morning, (July 4th), I go out again… water photog out at the Creek… caught a few… “trust me I got the shot, send money…” (ha ha) … but leave by 8:30, and have a nice chat with a different lifeguard as she is opening up her station, and I am toweling off, grabbing the skateboard, etc. She says nothing, is quite pleasant and I wished her best of luck for the toughest guarding day of the year.
I could not surf on the morning of Sunday the 5th, so when I went down with the family at 11:00, I brought a shortboard and my paddleboard and decided to follow the rules EXACTLY. The beach was very crowded… but the water was not. In fact, the area that I SUP is completely restricted from swimmers due to the reef and boulder field. Swimmers are not even allowed to wade in that area, (about 300 yards). It makes for a very challenging left on a Southwest swell, with water sucking off the reef, steep sections and a big ramp if you can make the section. At most tides, you just can’t get in early enough to make the section… unless you are on a standup.
So, I paddled my 7’6” SUP out just like a surfboard… tied off to some kelp, swam back in for my paddle, swam back out to my board, and tried to figure out this really tough wave on a new board. After about fifteen minutes of some really good waves, and some spectacular spinouts, the life guard yells out to me that I am not allowed to SUP at this beach. I yelled back that he was incorrect… I simply was not allowed to launch or land at this beach, but could paddle as much as I wished. He corrected me, stating that I could not ride waves but could paddle outside the surf line. I asked him for his authority, and why his explanation contradicted the other life guard from the day before, (the one who I lovingly refer to as Sporty Spice). He did not know, but was instructed that he had to pull me from the water…
At this point, I wanted to test the situation so I paddled my board back out… tied off to kelp… swam back in with my paddle… and swam back to my board and tried to knee paddle my way into the waves and around the section, (and to see how the life guards would deal with this conundrum). They left me alone, but it was boring and sucked, so I took a wave in and got my shortboard, (6’8” Bessell Eliminator.) I proceeded to surf without a leash, right next to the blackball area… which is kind of funny in that what I was doing at that point was WAY more dangerous (to me and others) than SUP’ing. To make sure that you understand how tragic this was… there were occasional five foot sets just exploding on the boulder field… and on my shortboard, I made the section twice in three hours… whereas in the short time on my SUP, I made just about every single section.
It was soooo painful to be sitting in the water knowing that if I was on my SUP it would have been an amazing session… in front of a packed beach… that REALLY would have made people appreciate SUP’ing. I did not intend that last part to sound conceited… but very often people comment to me that they had a great time watching me and that it is a beautiful and graceful sport… and then they ask questions about it. (try it South of PB pier on a big swell on a Saturday or Sunday morning.) I know it happens to you too.
This morning after coming back from court, I called US Ocean Safety HQ (949) 276-5050, and spoke to a very polite young man named James Watkins. When I introduced myself and the reason for my questions he said, “Oh that was you at Strand yesterday.” He took a few moments and gave me both the regulations that (according to the County) govern the activity… and the name and number of their contact at the County of Orange, (Leslie Ray, (714) 973-6863).
I took the information and looked up the regulations… 2-5-45, 2-5-66, and 2-5-77. After reviewing the regulations, I noted that 2-5-66 concerns launching boats at beaches and figured that they were using the mis-guided Coast Guard classification to conclude that all SUP’s are boats. The other two sections govern regulation of surfing and hazardous water activities and basically lump surfboards and “paddleboards” with “any other similar object.” This would seem to cover SUP’s… but these two regulations do not distinguish SUP’s from surfboards. So if surfing is allowed in a certain area, SUP’s must be allowed as well. Additionally, if the County chooses to interpret SUP’s as vessels… how is a surfing object classified as an SUP? My son can SUP anything bigger that an 8’0”… so if the definition is anything that can be paddlesurfed, then every board over 8 feet must be banned from the surf.
Further, down that same stretch of beach is the Monarch Bay Club… the club has catamarans and windsurfers and operates on private land but crosses the County Beach. I know this for a fact because I toured the club intending upon joining until I found out that their dues are $14,000 per year (!?!). So, if the County chooses to stand on the fact that anything that can be SUP’d is a vessel and cannot be launched, I will make darn sure that every single catamaran pulled into every private residential area behin every single County beach is removed. As folks who belong to the Monarch Bay Club and live oceanfront tend to have money… I don’t think that the County will choose this route.
I am still waiting to hear from Ms. Ray. As Mr. Watkins informed her of my impending call, perhaps I will receive a call back from County counsel rather than Ms. Ray. I called four times today and left two messages. A very nice person from Maxfield provisions e-mailed me a few hours ago and informed me that Ms. Ray took her call, was very nice, was clueless about stand up paddle surfing, and was just going by the Coast Guard guidelines.
I look forward to a positive dialogue with Ms. Ray, but will do anything and everything necessary to give SUP’ers the same rights as surfers, the rights we deserve… Remember that we will never ever ever keep these rights if SUP’ers kook out, hog waves, go out into the surf before they are ready and generally act like dicks.
If you are an Orange County SUP’er and want to be apprised of what transpires… shoot me an e-mail and I will keep you posted. I have also started a thread on Stand Up Forum and will be updating that as well.
TimRead more about this issue on the StandUp Zone in the section titled "General Discussion". Look for Tim's thread and add your name to the growing list of stand up paddlers in support of safe, stand up surfing in Orange County.