On August 28th, a female surfer, after finishing a surf session at Tourmaline Surfing Park made the mistake of going back into the water for a swim. Not only is this not legal in a designated board-surfing zone, it is not safe because a swimmer can get hit by a surfboard. However this time it wasn’t a surfboard, but a kite-surfer going at half speed (according to the kite-surfer). When the kite-surfing board hit the swimmer, it caused a “Deep 3 inch laceration to lower left jaw and dislocation of 3–5 lower teeth,” the official lifeguard report said.
This incident and others have brought back the question: are kite-surfers legally allowed to kite-surf at Tourmaline Surfing Park?
My research for an August 29, 2012, Reader article showed that they are allowed in that area as long as they do not exceed five miles per hour and stay 1000 feet away from shore, based on the mean high-tide line. That is not what is happening today. On a busy day you can count 20 or more kite-surfers sailing with the surfers. Sometimes they spray water on the surfers as they go by, and some jump directly over the surfers while going against the wave. Obviously they are being propelled by the wind and not the wave. This is important because the definition of a surfboard is a non-inflatable device that is carried along or propelled by the action of the waves. If the kite-surfer is jumping a wave going seaward, it is not being carried along or propelled by the wave, and hence is not considered a valid surfboard that is allowed in a board-surfing area.
It appears that back in 1994 sailboarders asked for and received an exception to the law preventing them from sailboarding at Tourmaline Surfing Park. However, this exception does not apply to kite-surfers (in my opinion), whose sails are attached to the surfer, and not the surfboard, as required by the exception.
Kite-surfing has become extremely popular in the past ten years. This is at least in part because the cost of the equipment is less and the equipment is lighter and easier to use. With today’s equipment, it takes only a relatively strong wind, when previously the wind had to be very strong to be able to kite-surf. A very strong wind usually keeps most of the regular wave surfers out of the water. However, with the new equipment for kite-surfing and the increasing number of them at Tourmaline Surfing Park, incidents between kite-surfers and regular surfers are increasing.
Another reason for the increase in surfer/kite-surfer incidents is that the season has changed. There normally is not much surf during the summer months. The wind would come up in the afternoon, and the kite-surfers would have the place to themselves. But this summer was extraordinary for surfing. There were good waves about every day. And some swells were large and brought out a lot of surfers, so in the afternoon you had a lot of surfers and a lot of kite-surfers.
I met with the two top lifeguards for the City of San Diego, chief Rick Wurtz and captain Nick Lerma, to discuss kite-surfing at Tourmaline. They had recently watched the kite-surfers on a windy afternoon and agreed that some of the kite-surfers were too close to regular surfers. However, they disagreed with my conclusion that kite-surfing was illegal at Tourmaline. Chief Wurtz walked me through the municipal code. He felt that the definition of a kite-surfer in the code meets the existing general description of a surfboard.
I contacted the city attorney’s office and asked, “Is kite-surfing legal at Tourmaline Surfing Park?” Here is their reply:
“Modern kite-surfing is an aquatic activity that post-dates many City and State regulations. As such, kite surfing is not specifically defined in current law. Our office is working with City staff to determine which regulations would apply to this activity and possible legislative options. All questions related to the enforcement of present laws should be addressed by the San Diego Fire-Rescue Department Lifeguards.”
I asked several kite-surfers about what they think might be realistic rules that could be put in place to keep the two groups separate. They could give me no good answers.
Most of the regular surfers at Tourmaline would rather not have kite-surfers. Josh Hall, president of the Pacific Beach Surf Club, says, “It is obviously inherently dangerous. Tourmaline is a beginners’ beach. It is a family beach for teaching kids how to surf. The kite-surfers are making it a dangerous place to learn to surf."