Inlet Surfing Beach Program A Success, Patrol Captain Says

OCEAN CITY – The long-awaited pilot program for the Inlet surfing beach has been deemed a success this week by Ocean City Beach Patrol Captain Butch Arbin, after assessing all aspects of the first year of the Inlet surf beach.

“We have not had a single complaint from the public,” Arbin said of the pilot program.

The southern part of the beach at the Inlet was designated for surfers at the beginning of summer, giving surfers complete access to that water, Monday thru Friday, with no interference from swimmers.

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, that surfers could use. 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 waters to surf. This year the surfing community was granted their wish, receiving a large chunk of beach at the Inlet to be used Monday thru Friday.

Before the surf beach went into affect, there were some factors that needed to be considered. One was how a set surfing beach would affect the beach stands in that area, owned by Pat McLaughlin. Because the surf beach would be installed in the middle of McLaughlin’s lease term with that area of the beach, it was important that he be consulted.

Arbin explained that with the facilitation of Mayor Rick Meehan, McLaughlin agreed, allowing the surf beach to make a home in the Inlet area.

Arbin informed the Recreation and Parks Committee Tuesday morning that after monitoring the surf beach all summer long and after talking to numerous parties involved, he deemed the pilot program a complete success.

“It just doesn’t get much better than that for a pilot program,” Arbin said.

Arbin spoke to numerous patrons, the Eastern Surfing Association (ESA), and several surf shops, all of who have agreed with the success of the pilot program. Arbin also contacted McLaughlin who is still in support of the surf beach. Arbin explained that although McLaughlin has seen a decrease in business at his most southern stand, it has not affected the overall business of his three stands. “If they’re going to rent they’re going to rent,” Arbin said, explaining that business is still going strong for McLaughlin.

Arbin also heard support from Bruce Gibbs, superintendent of the city’s Maintenance Department, who is in charge of the Inlet parking lot. Gibbs reported that he had heard no complaints from the gatekeepers at the Inlet parking lot, who would have heard complaints from tourists as they left the beach.

Of course, the surfing community would like to see the availability of the beach extended through the weekends or the surf beach extended further north, but Arbin said he could not support that request at this time.

“The weekends are not practical from a safety standpoint,” Arbin said, explaining that the high density of swimmers would cause safety concerns for the guards.

Currently, the surf beach is running smoothly, with two guards working the area at all times. Arbin explained that there are two guards that stay mostly in that area, and that on any given day one of those two guards will be there.

“It helps them monitor and know the people and the area,” Arbin said, adding that having a guard that’s become familiar with the surfing community is advantageous for the surf beach. 

As for the safety of a surf beach, Arbin maintained that injuries are no more prevalent on a surfing beach than they are anywhere else.

“Almost 100 percent of the injuries are from that surfer’s own board,” Arbin said, explaining that surfers rarely run into one another and cause injury.

“For a pilot program, I would not have thought it would have brought this positive of a response,” Arbin said.

Arbin has endorsed the pilot program continuing next summer at its fixed location at the Inlet.