Friday, July 3–Overcrowded Surf Beaches Remain A Problem

OCEAN CITY – Overcrowding on the surf beaches has always been a bit of a concern, and something that most local surfers have learned to live with, but that doesn’t mean they think it’s an ideal situation by any means.

Despite the town of Ocean City adding the Inlet as a surf beach during the week two years ago, bringing the total to three during the week, there are some in the surfing community who think there is not enough room on the beaches for the hordes of summer wave-riders.

“It’s a zoo out there, but it’s always been a concern, and it’s kind of the nature of the beast in the summer,” said avid surfer and K-Coast co-owner Chris Shanahan. “I’m not sure what else they can do to help the situation, because even though they have technically three beaches to surf on, only one has been breaking, so obviously everyone is jammed in there and competing for waves.”

The current surf beach system, which has rotating locations, one in the uptown and one in the downtown area of Ocean City, has been in place since the early 1980’s when then-Councilmen Leighton Moore, who owns Seacrets, and Ed Ellis, who owns Ocean Petroleum, urged the council to institute the two-beach system.

Ellis said that no system is perfect, but thought that the current one has worked up until now.

“Back then, the underdeveloped ocean blocks were used as the surf beaches, and now, there is nothing that’s undeveloped in Ocean City, so we had to make a change,” said Ellis. “We didn’t think the town would gain anything by losing the surfing community so we came up with the system, but now the bottom line is that the council may need to look at making some changes to it.”

Surfers and non-surfers both know that the rotating surf beach locations are for matters of convenience, not only for the swimmers who are displaced a block in either direction, but also for the businesses who sit on the ocean block.

Some have contested that perhaps the answer to addressing the overcrowding concerns on the surf beaches is to extend the area to two blocks rather than one. However, Ellis said that it would adversely affect the families on vacation.

“If you do that, the guy who works in a steel mill that’s down here for a much needed vacation with his family is going to have to walk two blocks just to get in the water,” said Ellis. “Anyone with kids will tell you that is an idea that would never work well. At the same time, however, the surfers do have a right to their hobby and the ocean.”

Local surfer Matt Marine says every surfer has had at least one run-in with overcrowding and contests that some of the novice summer surfers are a danger to themselves and others.

“It’s scary out there,” said Marine. “You’ve got guys out there that don’t know what they are doing on a big board with three sharp fins and they are all pointed at one another, so it’s only a matter of time before someone gets really hurt out there.”

Marine thinks that the beach patrol could educate beginner surfers to general rules and warning signs as they do with swimmers and also tell them the basic etiquette rules of surfing.

“It’s pretty simple. You look left and the guy nearest the peak of the wave has priority,” said Marine. “I’m not saying that we should make people ‘try out’ before they get in the water, but at the very least, extend the surf beaches when there’s big surf and swimmers aren’t in the water.”

Marine said that in the off-season, when lifeguards aren’t on duty, many local surfers have pulled people in trouble out of the water.

“Surfers are the lifeguards in the off-season, I’ve saved three people here and eight people worldwide. The locals know the water, probably more so than some of the summertime guards that used to work at a pool and passed their test,” said Marine. “The addition of the Inlet looks good on paper, but it never breaks unless there’s a south swell with winds coming from the south, so it basically doesn’t do us any good.”

Shanahan said that the beach patrol does a good job at monitoring the surf beaches and said that to his knowledge, they assign seasoned guards to the surf beaches.

“The sand is always shifting out there, so you never know where the sand bars are going to be”, said Shanahan, “but lately there hasn’t been a lot of bigger swells to move the sand around. In most cases, though, a lot of locals end up going to Assateague.”

Shanahan thinks that maybe extending the time in the morning or the evening by an hour could disperse some of the crowds a bit more evenly.

“No system is perfect, and even this one certainly falls into that”, said Ellis. “You can’t tell people they simply can’t do something because they aren’t good enough, but you certainly can’t allow kids in the same space of water as people on huge epoxy surfboards either. So, if you think about it, no one can really win, but you have to make sure that no one loses.”

Attempts to contact the Ocean City Beach Patrol for comment on the situation were not returned this week.