OCEAN CITY – As the beaches fill with visitors and the surfers search for an open space to catch a few waves, the success of the Inlet surfing beach continues to grow as the program enters its second year, reported Beach Patrol Captain Butch Arbin this week.
The Inlet surfing beach was officially set aside last year when the Ocean City Mayor and Council approved a one-year pilot program for the creation of a surfing-only beach at the Inlet extending northward from the jetty about 200 yards. The move was a compromise of sorts from the town elected officials after the local surfing community implored them to create more opportunities for the rapidly growing sport in the area. The pilot program began last year, giving surfers an additional option during lifeguard hours.
Surfing beaches have been an issue in Ocean City since as early as the 1970’s, when Arbin can remember requesting that a section of the Inlet beach be set aside for surfing.
Before the beach was as developed and populated as it is today, surfers had their choice of numerous undeveloped beaches to surf. But as Ocean City grew and undeveloped beach areas became scarce, surfers were left with only one undeveloped beach to surf, which soon went by the wayside, leaving no viable surfing areas.
The first designated surfing beaches came in the form of three rotating beaches. Each day there would be three beaches, which would rotate daily, for surfers to utilize. The problem was if there were no surfers there, the beach would close to surfing and open to swimmers. Surfers would arrive intermittently depending on the tides and waves, finding that the beach had already been closed to surfers. As a compromise, the surfers gave up one of their beaches in exchange for two surf beaches that would remain surf beaches all day.
That system remained for several years, but as the surfing community grew so did the need for more area to surf. Last year the surfing community was granted its wish, receiving a large chunk of beach at the Inlet to be used Monday through Friday.
After hearing the success of the first year of the pilot program, the Mayor and Council approved the return of the surfing beach in 2008.
Arbin reported this week that the Inlet surfing beach is continuing to thrive in 2008 with little to no complaints from beachgoers.
“Last year it just worked out so well that we were able to continue with it,” said Arbin this week. “We’re now going into our second year so people that are coming back to the beach this year know what the situation is.”
The first year also gave the beach patrol a chance to get used to the pilot program and work out all of the kinks.
“Last year we really learned the best way to do it and now we can continue with that,” said Arbin.
Arbin explained that he always considered the Inlet beaches to be the most ideal location for a fixed surfing beach.
“For lots of reasons it works out really well there,” he said.
First, the Inlet beach is essentially a neutral zone, in that it is not in front of any hotels or condominiums, eliminating complaints from residents or visitors.
Second, the Inlet surfing beach provides a fairly consistent spot for waves, an element that is not always available with a rotating surf beach.
“Usually the rotating surfing beach will rotate through an area of the beach where there’s not a quality wave,” said Arbin, who explained that as a result, at least one of the two surfing beaches on a given day is not viable for surfing.
With the combination of two rotating beaches and the fixed Inlet surf beach working effectively, Arbin does not anticipate the addition of another surfing beach any time soon. However Arbin does intend on continuing to build the beach patrol’s relationship with the surfing community.
“We’ve got a really good dialogue with both the ESA and the Surfrider Foundation now,” said Arbin.
While the Inlet surf beach has opened up a fixed space for surfers to utilize during lifeguard hours, Arbin noted that the majority of experienced surfers still prefer to paddle out during the early morning or evening hours.
“The people that live here really do their surfing during the morning or in the evening,” he said.
Swimmers in the water before and after lifeguard hours is always a concern amongst the beach patrol, but Arbin noted that surfers are less of a concern, as they are generally strong swimmers with lots of ocean experience.
“Most of the people that surf down here know what they’re doing. Over time, we’ve had very, very few incidents involving surfers,” he said.
In fact, many of the local surfers end up as an additional eye on the water, said Arbin, who noted several times in the off-season when surfers have helped swimmers in trouble.
“The surfers can actually help us while they’re out there,” he said.