2002-08-03 / Letters

Leave Surfers Alone

Leave Surfers Alone

Dear Editor;

For nearly 30 years I have filmed and photographed family members and friends who surf the less than perfect waves in the Rockaways and Breezy Point. As both of my sons have been surfing most of their lives, I have also spent considerable amounts of money feeding, clothing and equipping surfers.

One undeniable fact I have noticed over the past three decades is that no one (with respect to NYC agencies) cares whether surfers live, die or even exist for eight to ten months of the year. I know this as a fact because I have been out there on the rocks and on the beach in all kinds of inclement weather from September through June, filming, photographing or just watching our local surfers and I can count on my one hand the times I have seen a New York City official of any kind addressing the existence let alone the safety of surfers.

I have been out there during storms in September, hurricanes in October & November, cold, wet wind in November, ice and snow from December through March and April and I simply cannot say I have ever seen anyone except parents, beach walkers and the occasional newspaper photographer observing or supervising surfers or making sure they are properly equipped to prevent hypothermia and the other dangers inherent in the sport.

So why in God's name, does the City of New York, who could care less for eight to ten months out of the year, deign to issue orders, commands and summonses to surfers during July and August? Is there a point to this harassment?

They send clueless out of town lifeguards (lifeguards who are locals are likely to be surfers themselves), out of shape men in trucks and on ATVs, officers on foot and on bikes and who knows who else to harass these resident citizens for two months each year whom they ignore for ten.

 If the bureaucracy machine that is the City of New York had bothered to fact find prior to issuing orders to cite, they would be aware of certain facts regarding surfers in general, New York City surfers in particular. They are:

1.  Surfers are often in extremely good physical condition. They must be fast, agile and strong with high stress endurance simply to participate in the sport.

2.  Surfers are some of the best swimmers in ocean conditions, sea mammals aside.

3. Surfers are some of the most environmentally aware citizens of this planet.

4. Surfers are some of the most meteorologically informed citizens. They are aware of not only storm happenings, but also tide tables, prevailing winds and wave heights.

5. Surfers who are experienced in years often have experience in first aid, lifesaving, CPR, preventing hypothermia, avoiding rip tides and undertows and knowing how to escape these natural occurrences when they are caught in them. Many experienced surfers are formerly and currently NYC Ocean Lifeguards, Police Officers, Firemen, doctors, EMTs and nurses. Who better to assist in patrolling our shores during non-lifeguard hours and months?

6. Surfers who are experienced often use this knowledge to assist newer surfers, thereby passing on the knowledge for the benefit of future generations.

7. Because wave conditions may be best anytime from dawn to dark, surfers are often the first witnesses to a variety of ocean events, including sea mammal distress, boat trouble, swimmers in distress, fishing accidents and even the occasional body wash-up and are therefore often the first or only source of report, response and assistance available.

So why, when the City of New York Department of Parks and Recreation has had to go as far as Europe and Australia to recruit City Lifeguards, would they want to alienate and harass these vital citizens? All that accomplishes is making surfers resentful and defiant.

A minimalist attitude toward the surfers would be to assign the several popular surfing beaches to surfing and leave the surfers alone.

A better idea would be for the City of New York to study and then imitate the states of California, Florida, Hawaii, New Jersey and North Carolina in dealing with surfers.

The best scenario would be for the City of New York to take the experience of those other states to even be better than them in their treatment of surfers and in the utilization of surfers for public safety and ocean awareness.

 MAUREEN E. RITTER


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