Throwing The Book At Surfers

Larry Price
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Wednesday - October 11, 2006
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In a real dedicated effort on the part of the state, a new buoy marking Point Panic as a strictly body surfing territory was installed.

The buoy is in addition to signs on shore at the popular Kakaako surf break that say “NO BOARD SURFING” is allowed. Judging from the inattention paid to other government posted signs, it is probably a good bet that the signs will eventually be ignored. This is especially true when you consider the psyche of most surfers.

What’s surprising is the penalties for surf board riding in the restricted area. Violators face fines of up to $1,000, 30 days in jail and confiscation of their boards. The reason the fines are so stiff is because the state Department of Land and Natural Resources hopes the new buoy will stop collisions between surfers and body surfers.

All of this is not new. The popular surf spot was designated for body surfers only in 1982, but many board surfers claim they were unaware of the rules. According to records from the department, they have received 17 complaints and issued 11 citations for board use in the restricted area.

While the diligence of DLNR is to be commended, it seems the fines are a little heavy handed and discriminating toward surfers in general.

By comparison, motorists who drive under the influence of alcohol have got it much easier. The DUI penalties are broken down by first, second and third offense. The first offense is relatively simple. The defendant is required to enroll in a 14-day alcohol or drug abuse program. There is generally no jail time for a first offense. There is a license suspension for 90 days. In extreme cases, other sentencing options might include up to 72 hours of community service.

If a second DUI is committed within five years of the first offense a fine of between $500 and $1,500 is possible with five to 14 days in jail or 240 hours of community service and a license suspension of one year.

On the other hand, surfers don’t have many breaks (so to speak). There are, for instance, no laws or corresponding signs limiting the areas body surfers can challenge and there is are no signs to embarrass them if they do. Surfers don’t need licenses to surf like motorists do to drive. They don’t have any zipper lanes or High Occupancy Vehicle lanes (HOV) to observe.

Surfers are free spirits who follow the waves, whereever they are. Body surfers are also free spirits - they just don’t have boards. I’m not suggesting the law prohibiting surf-boards in certain areas be repealed. What I am suggesting is that the enforcement of motorists staying inside their prescribed lanes be governed with the same governmental gusto.

A motorist shouldn’t be allowed to get off with a lighter fine than a board surfer who inadvertently slides left into a prohibited lane in the Pacific Ocean. Let’s face it, the Pacific Ocean is huge while our highway system is not.

This all may be a signal that it is time for the surfers to form a union. They can have units for body surfers with and without boards.

It will then be the responsibility of the union leadership to decide who rides which wave where and determine age limits and licensing requirement, beginner certification and graduation criteria.

We already have police officers mounted on horses and others chasing lawbreakers on bicycles.

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