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City Curbs Surfing Instruction on Santa Monica Beach

By Jorge Casuso

January 11 – To ease overcrowding and lower tensions on Santa Monica State Beach, the City Council Tuesday night approved an ordinance that limits surf classes, which often conflict with swimmers and seasoned surfers.

Council members worried that the often advertised classes -- which draw large crowds to tents with flying banners -- could pose a safety risk to beachgoers and limit use of the popular beach.

“No one wants to be the big, bad regulator, but here’s a limited resource and there’s a big demand," said Council member Bobby Shriver.

“We need to spread the use and possibly limit the use,” said Council member Ken Genser.

“I think we need to do something,” said Council member Kevin McKeown. “This summer has shown us the condition of our beaches has gotten out of control.”

The address the growing problem on a beach synonymous with a freewheeling beach culture, the council unanimously voted to limit surfing instruction on the beach by requiring that surf classes of any size be authorized by the City.

Unlike the County of Los Angeles and California State Parks, which strictly limit all surfing school activities, Santa Monica’s liberal surf instruction policies do not regulate most surfing instruction -- leading to a free for all as surfing schools compete with one-on-one instructors for profits, City officials said.

Under the new law -- which council members called “a work in progress” -- the City would limit instruction to those groups issued a permit through the Open Space Division, or contracted through the Community Programs Division.

Under the new ordinance, permit holders will be required to pay a percentage of gross receipts to the City consistent with other beach concession services.

But council members worried that the regulations could limit the choice of instructors, nudge out low-income and inner city kids and be difficult to enforce, since an instructor could easily collect the fees under the table.

“The percentage of gross makes the City look like its just money grubbing,” Shriver said. “I for small is good. The one-on-one thing should be allowed.”

“How do we strike the right balance to make sure the range of operations reflect the needs of the community and provide a range of options?” Genser asked.

The City would “will be looking for a diversity of providers,” said Callie Hurd, the City’s open space manager. “Providers are most in touch with what people want.”

As for standards, the City requires instructors to know CPR and first aid and pass a criminal background check. Instructors of larger surf schools could be required to have lifeguard training, Hurd said.

Under the current municipal code, groups of less than 20 children or any number of adults can operate a surfing school without a permit or contract, although limited number of permits are available for larger groups on a first come, first served basis through the City’s Open Space Management Division.

The City also contracts with surf instructors to offer surfing lessons through the City’s Community Programs Division.

Under the proposed ordinance, “the permit would be issued with priority first to the City’s Community Program contractors, who offer affordable classes for the community, and secondly to accredited educational institutions offering surfing instruction for course credit,” according to staff.

“Other permits, such as permits for high-quality individual and walk-up instruction, would be awarded on a competitive basis such as through a Request for Proposals process.”

Many of the 15 speakers who testified Tuesday worried that the new regulations would curb their choice of instructors. Particularly worried were parents of young children who were happy with the teachers they hired, some of them for private lessons.

“The City should not be the authority to determine who is qualified to be an instructor,” said Roberta Brown.

“I can’t believe we’re limiting one-on-one instruction,” said another parent who noted the huge crowds gathered around “big banners” on the beach. “Give parents control over choosing instructors.”

Some surfing instructors also worried the regulations would wipe out their businesses.

“Two reasons we are here are safety and money,” said Alan King, another instructor. “The proposal is not going to organize, it’s going to monopolize. Many will not be able to make a living.”

“I’m against the restrictions,” said Sidney Lovelace, a surfing instructor. “I don’t think one-on-one instruction should be regulated at all.”

Other speakers said the regulations ran counter to the spirit of surfing on a beach that helped put the sport on he map.

“Santa Monica is the capital of surfing,” said Rabbi Nachum Shifren, known as the Surfing Rabbi. “You can’t regulate surfing. It’s the last frontier.

“It’s the Alaska we have let to escape the madness that we have here now, the Rabbi said.

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“No one wants to be the big, bad regulator, but here’s a limited resource and there’s a big demand." Bobby Shriver


“The City should not be the authority to determine who is qualified to be an instructor.” Roberta Brown


“You can’t regulate surfing. It’s the last frontier."
Nachum Shifren


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