Kiteboarding on Miami Beach: It's getting complicated

Susan Askew
Susan Askew

Kiteboarding on Miami Beach: It's getting complicated:

Growth in sport creating tensions with beachgoers

After two public meetings at which beachgoers and kiteboarders aired their concerns and worked to create a compromise for co-existing, there are some ideas they can agree upon: rules for governing the sport on Miami Beach and a designated area for beginners. What remains a point of contention is where experienced kiteboarders can launch. Right now, the City is not offering up the kiteboarders' location of choice, the 25th Street beach.
The City administration is recommending three designated areas for kiteboarding, one between 35th and 36th Streets behind a City parking lot which has public restrooms and would be open seven days a week for experienced kitesurfers – those at a level 3 certification. The second at 85th Street which has public parking at the West Lots and a public restroom. However, given how busy the area is, it would only be open for kitesurfing Monday through Friday, no weekends and no holidays, open only to those with level three certification. The final location would be the current Ocean Terrace spot where lessons and rentals are permitted. It would be the designated area for beginners and lessons while also being open to experienced kiteboarders.
City Real Estate Asset Manager Mark Milisits told members of the Commission’s Neighborhood and Community Affairs Committee that the administration has met twice in the last two weeks with members of the Miami Beach Kitesurfing Foundation (MBKF) which wants to continue to utilize the 24th and 25th Street beach, an area that has been a point of contention with local residents who say the number of elderly beachgoers and children using what is a very narrow stretch of sand creates a dangerous situation with the large number of kiteboarders.
Milisits showed a video which he said “indicates some of the problems and some of the concerns that Staff has and why we’re here today … There are examples in the video of illegal lessons, riding close to shore, riding close to swimmers, tricks close to shore, the kites over shore, and riding in front of [lifeguard] towers. We’re not saying all kiteboarders conduct themselves in this manner because a lot of them conduct themselves in a safe manner, however, there are enough examples of this type of activity to justify some type of regulations.”
In addition to designated areas, the City is recommending certification, registration, and enforcement. Milisits said basic guidelines would include level three certification indicating a surfer is competent to be out on their own, maintaining a minimum distance from swimmers of 50 feet, a distance of 300 feet from shore and outside of guarded areas, kiteboarders would not be allowed to fly over shore, and they would go through a registration process with riders identified with streamers.
To a packed chamber, Committee Chair, Kristen Rosen Gonzales said, “Compromise means that everybody has to give up something. Everybody might not be 100% happy.”
Attorney for the Miami Beach Kitesurfing Foundation, Joe Garcia, urged the Committee to allow kitesurfing at the 25th Street beach in front of the Language School. By moving the lifeguard tower 150 feet north, Garcia said it would eliminate kiteboarding in front of the residential buildings that have expressed concern. (The area 300 feet on either side of a lifeguard stand is off-limits to kiteboard launching.)
Garcia reiterated that the rules being considered “we’ve been asking for for half a decade”. He said the Foundation agrees there should be a designated area for lessons so that inexperienced kitesurfers are clustered in less crowded areas.
Commissioner Mark Samuelian said he supports regulation, specific teaching areas, and specific designated areas for practicing the sport. He said he was open to considering the Language School area and moving the lifeguard stand. Most important, he said was enforcing the rules and he asked that for the first ninety days of implementation, there be extra enforcement.
Michael Góngora, another Committee member said he was opposed to the 25th Street location given its narrow strip of sand. “That is not in my opinion an appropriate place to add kitesurfing,” he said.
Samuelian moved to recommend the item for Commission consideration to include the regulations and certification process, an enforcement plan, and the three designated areas recommended by Staff with the direction to work with the kitesurfers to identify another area before it goes back to Commission.  When he suggested one option might be looking at moving the lifeguard stand and considering 25th Street, Góngora objected again saying he was not in favor of that location.
After shouts of protest from both sides of the issue, Rosen Gonzalez said, “We are not going to allow the kitesurfing behind these buildings because of the elderly and children who are there.” She added, “We are promising enforcement, especially heavy enforcement the first few months.”
Samuelian resiterated the need for a good enforcement plan. “We need a clear enforcement plan so I’d ask the administration probably between Code and Ocean Safety to come up with a specific plan of who will be on point, how the lifeguards will communicate with them, because what we’ve just laid out I think is getting us there, if we can enforce it. If we can’t enforce it, then we’ve got a problem.”
Rosen Gonzalez asked what the objection was to the area in front of the Language School.
Garcia emphasized, “That area is the historic launch area for kitesurfers.”
Rosen Gonzalez responded, “I wouldn’t mind trying the Language School and if there are complaints, then we’ll consider moving it to 35th Street. But I think we should at least give an opportunity to the kitesurfers so that they can have some place.”
Góngora said, “I would rather us not pick another area here from the dais and Committee. I would rather the administration work to identify the area and bring it back to Commission.”
Garcia continued to ask to have the lifeguard stand shifted north to protect beachgoers in the area and allow kiteboarding at 25th Street while conversations continue on another location but he was rebuffed.
Samuelian concluded he would like the administration “to explore the Language School and a couple others the kiteboarders put on the table as well. Look at 55th and 65th Streets and the Language School.”
The final recommendation voted on was for the three areas recommended by Staff with direction to discuss other options. 25th Street will have to wait further discussion.
One kiteboarder, expressing displeasure called out, “We’re voters.”
Rosen Gonzalez reminded the audience the issue still has to come back before the full Commission. “We’re doing the best we can. Everybody has to give up a little bit.”
In the meantime, the City is still seeking public comment. Give your thoughts on kiteboarding, regulations, and public safety here


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