Inlet Surfing Beach Program Begins With Little Fanfare

OCEAN CITY – No problems were reported just three days into a new system that created a surfing-only beach at the Inlet, but with soft weekday crowds this time of year and a calm, flat ocean for much of the week, the jury is still out on the new set-up.

Last fall, 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 for 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.

In the 1980s, resort officials created a rotating surfing beach system with one block designated for surfing only each day in the north end and south end of town. The surfing beaches are rotated each day so as not to impose on just one area of beach day in and day out during the summer.

The plan went along well for about 20 years, although there were occasional confrontations between surfers and swimmers, but a growing surfing population combined with more and more restricted areas forced town officials to revisit the issue last year. As a result, a surfing-only beach was created at the Inlet on Monday through Friday throughout the summer as part of a pilot program, with the issue likely to be revisited at the end of the season. On the weekends, the beach at the Inlet remains open to swimmers.

Without much fanfare, the new surfing-only beach at the Inlet opened this week, although the scant weekday crowds and lack of surf did not provide a good test case for how the new system might work. Nobody, not a surfer or a swimmer, was in the water at the Inlet on Wednesday afternoon, for example.

The Ocean City Beach Patrol (OCBP) is charged with monitoring the pilot program, but there was little to monitor this week. Because of the soft mid-week crowds this time of year, surfing was allowed everywhere up and down the resort coast with the caveat swimmers have the right-of-way in areas not designated specifically for surfing. Beach Patrol officials said they anticipate some growing pains with the new surfing beach at the Inlet, but it hasn’t created any problems thus far.

“We didn’t have any problems with it this week, but that doesn’t mean it will always go smoothly,” said OCBP Sgt. Colby Kauffman. “It’s hard to get a good read on it this early. It’s so low populated on the beach right now during the week and people can surf anywhere.”

Kauffman said the Beach Patrol monitors the daily crowds on the beach each day and makes a determination early where surfing will be allowed.

“Usually by around 10 a.m., we make a decision whether or not to go with the modified system for the surfing beaches, which allow surfing everywhere,” she said. “People can contact the Beach Patrol each day to see where surfing will be allowed. The important thing to remember is even when we go to the modified system, the swimmers still have the right of way.”