The recent proliferation of kite surfers at Tourmaline Surfing Park has annoyed traditional surfers wondering whether the wind-driven surfers are legal at the surf-only beach.
During the Summer Longboard Classic finals last year at Tourmaline Surfing Park, an unusual event occurred. A kite surfer, apparently oblivious to the tournament, flew full speed into the contestants. Either the intruder could not hear or chose to ignore the protestations coming from over the loudspeaker. A cable connecting the man to his kite almost struck a surfer. This incident brought up a question: is kite surfing legal at Tourmaline Surfing Park?
My home surf break is Tourmaline, located in north Pacific Beach. “Turmo” became surfing-only in May 1963, the first such designation in the United States. It is commonly known as a beginner’s beach, a friendly place to surf. One reason for excluding swimmers is the danger posed by the difference in speed between swimming and surfing. A nine-foot surfboard traveling five miles an hour can crack a skull. Because of the large number of beginning surfers at Turmo, there is a good chance that someone standing in shallow water will get hit by an errant surfboard.
Over the past ten years, new surfing-related sports have proliferated at Tourmaline. Wind surfers, kite surfers, kayak surfers, and stand-up paddlers compete for the waves with the old-fashioned arm-driven surfer. The new sports have one thing in common: speed. Boards propelled by a paddle or sail go faster than boards pushed forward by a surfer paddling with hands. The faster you go, the sooner and easier you get into a wave. Kite surfing is almost like tow-in surfing, where a jet ski pulls a surfer into the wave. The speed record for a kite surfer is over 50 miles per hour, while a surfer rarely exceeds 10 to 15 miles per hour, and that is on a big, fast wave.
I decided to check the law to find out if kite surfers are allowed to use Tourmaline Surfing Park.
Short answer: kite surfers are welcome at Tourmaline Surfing Park, as long as they do not exceed five miles per hour.
Longer answer: According to the San Diego Municipal Code, Section 63.20.2, a surfboard is any “noninflated device upon which or with the use or aid of which a person can ride waves or be carried along or propelled by the action of the waves,” and all surfboards are allowed in designated board-surfing zones. “Vessels” are not allowed to exceed five miles an hour within 1000 feet of the shore; however, Section 63.20.15.c specifies one exception: in board-surfing zones, windsurfing boards — also called sailboards, which have a sail attached to a mast on the board — are exempt.
Most of the time, nature solves the problem of keeping surfers and wind-propelled surfers separate. The best time to surf is when there is no wind because wind blows the tops off the waves. But sometimes the surf is big and the wind is blowing offshore: an offshore wind holds up the wave and makes it good for surfing. These conditions are also good for kite surfing, and that is when conflict arises.
I asked several locals for their opinion on kite surfing at Tourmaline.
Arnold Holmes gets out of the water and away from “Those @#$%^* kite surfers!”
First, Mr. Tourmaline himself, Skip Frye: “It’s all about the aloha spirit. Everyone should share the waves. That said, it’s really only a problem when there is a north wind. When the wind is from the north, it’s great for both surfers and kite surfers. The faster surfers need to share the waves with the slower long- and shortboards.”
John, a man in his 50s: “I’ve lived in PB my whole life. I surf and kite surf. Normally, you don’t do them at the same time. But when both are out there, surfers must have right-of-way. In my opinion, they always must have right-of-way, and that should be the rule. But, kite surfers are a nonpowered surfboard, so technically, yes, they have the right to be here.”
Doug, a PB resident for 28 years: “If it’s too windy, you shouldn’t be surfing. When it’s glassy, you should be surfing, not kite surfing.”
Adam, a 30-year-old who has surfed in PB half his life: “Regular surfers should have right-of-way, like sailing boats always have right-of-way over powerboats. Are they allowed at Tourmaline? Legally, yes; socially, no.”
Damon Castro, over 50: “I throw rocks at them.” Do you think they are legal out there? “Yes, but I still throw rocks at them!”
Jason McLachlan, 39: “They are very beautiful. I have no problem with them as long as they stay out of the way of the surfers.” Do you think they are legal? “I have no idea. I’m not a lawyer!”
And the final comment is from my regular surf buddy, Arnold Holmes, 49, who has been surfing for 35 years: “Those @#$%^&* kite surfers!”
When the city council exempted sailboard surfers from following the five-mile-per-hour law, it violated the safety principle of separating people traveling at different speeds. Today, if petitioned, the council might grant an exemption to kite surfers too, but at this time, kite surfers must obey the five-mile-per-hour rule at Tourmaline.
(For more on the City’s law, go to erpsystemsconsulting.com/Testimonials.html.)