OCEAN CITY – The Mayor and Council will soon decide whether to give stand-up paddleboards (SUPs) access to the ocean starting the Monday after Labor Day until the end of the lifeguards’ season on Sept. 30.
Last month the Recreation and Parks Commission directed the Ocean City Beach Patrol (OCBP) to come up with a recommended pilot program that would safely allow SUP operators’ access to the ocean for a few weeks in September, prior to the September 30 expiration of the current code restrictions.
“We want to allow maximum access to the ocean for different activities as much as we can. Of course, our goal is to do it in a way that is safe for everyone involved, and we are not stepping on any ones toes in allowing one group access over another,” OCBP Lieutenant Ward Kovacs said.
OCBP is recommending allowing SUPs to have full access to the ocean, to include the surf zone on days when surfing is modified starting on the Monday that follows Labor Day, which is Sept. 8 this year. This allows for 22 additional days of access over the existing code. On days when surfing is not modified during the period from Sept. 8-30, SUP will be prohibited.
Ocean City’s modified surfing beach expands two scheduled rotating surfing beaches during times of good surf and poor swimming conditions and also has the Inlet open to surfers on a conditional basis on the weekends during the summer due to the surfing beaches being overcrowded.
Modified surfing beaches also come into play as the off-season approaches, such as in the month of September when the beaches are less crowded and at the lifeguards’ discretion they will open the ocean to surfers.
“The reason we chose that date is because in September, all depending on the weather and when schools start, we are still packed in town with a lot of swimming, so we thought for this first trial to add those 22 days on starting the Monday after Labor Day with certain stipulations,” Kovacs said.
Any SUP operators must stay 50 yards away from all swimmers, waders and surfers while launching and beaching and while operating in the surf zone or beyond the surf zone.
“SUP can take up almost a 40-foot swath of a wave, so we want to keep them pretty far away. A SUP can also surf longer distances because they catch waves earlier,” Kovacs said.
Any SUP operator may be asked to return to shore if the OCBP member deems activity to be a possible hazard to the operator or other persons, which includes, but is not limited to hazardous weather such as lightning, or unsafe surf conditions.
SUP operators must follow all applicable state and federal laws governing SUPs, including having a lifejacket and whistle on board at all times.
All SUP operators must have a leash attached to them and to their board whenever they are using the board in the ocean, which is a standard procedure regarding SUPs in many other locations.
Once beyond the breakers as determined by the Surf Rescue Technician (SRT) on duty, the SUP must operate in a north or south direction parallel to the beach and no further out than 200 yards.
“That is while we are on duty because there is an assumption there on some people’s behalf that if they launch off the beach we are responsible for them … therefore stay in an area where we reach you in a timely fashion,” Kovacs said.
When returning to the beach while the OCBP is on duty, SUP operators must return within 50 yards of an SRT on duty, so that the SRT can direct them to a safe area and assist in keeping people clear until the SUP is safely under control.
“The guards have a different perspective of the ocean and we don’t want them [SUP] coming in and have a little kid there they couldn’t see because of the waves. The guards also know where the rip currents are because they are much easier to see from a guard stand then a paddle board,” Kovacs said.
Shelly Dawson of the new Ocean City Surf Club found the recommended SUP pilot program fair and thorough, but had a feeling the SUP community will want more, such as having access to surfing beaches at all times.
“They are going to want to use SUPs in the surfing beach but it is part of the program in trying to see how it is going to work,” Dawson said. “I personally don’t know why you would want to do that because you don’t want to have that many people around you anywhere, especially with the length of the ride alone … but to get it going to see how it works and how it is respected by the operators and the guards I think this is a good start.”
The commission voted unanimously to forward a favorable recommendation to the full Mayor and City Council to approve the proposed pilot program allowing SUP access to the ocean from Ocean City’s beach during the month of September.
Currently, SUPs are defined by City Code as a watercraft due to its use of a paddle. The code states, “It is prohibited for any person to ride a wind surfboard or operate any watercraft from adjoining land upon any beach in the corporate limits of Ocean City, from Friday of Memorial Day weekend to September 30 between the hours of 10 a.m. and 5:30 p.m.”