Compromise Reached in Kiteboarding Dispute

Susan Askew
Susan Askew

Compromise Reached in Kiteboarding Dispute:

Rules everybody can live with

Miami Beach Commissioners, together with beachgoers and kiteboarders agreed on a compromise to continue to allow the sport to be practiced on a wide swath of Miami Beach. With high growth in the number of kitesurfers and limited beach space, a small strip of sand between 25th and 29th Streets became ground zero for a months-long battle over proposed restrictions. After many meetings, emails, and social media postings including a tweet from Richard Branson, an avid kitesurfer himself, the issue came to a head at this week’s Commission meeting.
Everyone was in agreement with recommendations to restrict teaching locations to one area of the Beach to reduce the risk of inexperienced kiteboarders in areas crowded with swimmers. Illegal lessons – those operators not licensed by the City – have been a source of complaints by beachgoers as well as experienced kitesurfers who realized the activities threatened their ability to practice the sport. One such lesson resulted in an accident on the 26th Street Beach in October when a kite hit someone in a beach chair. Following the incident, Ocean Rescue moved a lifeguard stand to the area. Because of a city ordinance prohibiting water sports within 400 feet of a lifeguard stand to the north and south, the kiteboarders were displaced from their favored launch spot. (The City currently has one licensed concessionaire for lessons, Boucher Brothers who subcontract with TKS Watersports for the service at 76th Street.)
City Staff, however, recommended restricting kiteboarding to three areas north of 30th Street, including the teaching location at 76th, a position kiteboarders argued would create an even bigger safety issue by funneling too many kitesurfers into a few areas. They urged a launch area just south of 25th Street in front of the Language School, unfettered access north of 29th Street for experienced kitesurfers, and one designated area for lessons at 76th Street.
Commissioner John Alemán said, “There was one accident and then there was a kneejerk reaction and a lifeguard stand was moved … I’ve never heard of a kiteboarding problem or issue prior to this one accident and I haven’t heard of one really since, either.” She advocated for keeping lessons to one spot and leaving the rest of the beach open. “The accident was caused as a result of a lesson.”
Commissioner Michael Góngora said, “I do agree there was one problem that brought this to the table but this is a growing sport. It’s a sport that takes up a lot of beach access. Like we always do on the Commission, we have to balance the love of the sport and the passion for the sport with the other residents who are trying to have quiet enjoyment on the beach.”
Noting the narrow beach area between 25th and 29th Streets, he said, “It’s not surprising that [the accident] happened in that little area because we have a number of very large older buildings that are primarily full of long-time older residents … a number of very large high occupancy buildings… [and]  an area with a very narrow strip of beach.”

He said that area should not be used for launching kiteboards. “I don’t want you to feel you are limited in your sport but I hope at the same time you recognize your responsibility to the residents to ensure their quiet enjoyment of a very narrow strip of beach where they live.”
Commissioner Kristen Rosen Gonzalez who initially raised a potential ban in the Fall said, “I would be willing to support the south of 25th Street compromise” allowing kites to launch on the beach behind the Language School. “I’m willing to support this as a pilot program. If we get complaints from those residents then maybe we have to move it further south, but I think that for right now that compromise for me seems fair.”
In addition, the Miami Beach Kiteboarding Foundation (MBKF) has advocated for safety rules. Roman Wunderlich, president of the MBKF said, “We understand that the 25th Street corridor has become a hotbed. It’s disorganized … We don’t want the kiteboarding in front of Club Atlantis. We don’t want it in front of Mirasol. We don’t want it in front of Oceanfront Plaza or Triton Towers. We shouldn’t be there. We’ve been acting irresponsibly there but we’ve also been trying to create rules for nearly a decade to prevent accidents like what happened.”
Those rules include staying 50 feet from swimmers upon ingress and egress from the water, remaining 200 feet from shore once in the water, and launching and landing only – no flying kites – on the beach. He emphasized that while they don’t want to be restricted to certain areas, “It’s not open access. It’s outside of restricted swim areas.”
Too few areas, he said, would create a safety hazard using an analogy to illustrate his point. “If you have ten kids on two trampolines and you take one away and you put them all on one we’re gonna have problems and that’s the same thing” that would happen with limited areas for kiteboarding.
Commissioner Micky Steinberg said, “The real issue here is the illegal commercial operations on the beach … beginners were dropping kites near beachgoers and non-kiteboard residents and one of these lessons resulted in a complaint. This is how it kind of steamrolled. If we only have a couple designated spots, we may be creating a bigger safety issue in those designated areas and if someone really knows what they’re doing and they’re just going out to enjoy this sport should we really be regulating that. I think some of the concerns were kites crashing on the beach. I think addressing the illegal lessons really does take care of that.”
After the discussion, Commissioners passed a resolution that would allow experienced kiteboarders – those with level 3 certification – to launch on the beach south of 25th Street at the Language School and in all areas north of 29th Street. No kiteboarding will be permitted south of 24th Street or between 25th and 29th Streets. Lessons will be allowed at the 76th Street location only. The three safety rules advocated by MBKF – staying 50 feet from swimmers, 200 feet from shore, and no flying of kites over the beach – were also included. Commissioners asked for an update in 6 months.
After the vote, kiteboarders cheered outside. Wunderlich thanked them for their emails, texts, and tweets and said, “Now it’s up to us. The ball’s now in our court again. We in the kite community, we have to behave. We have to be good. As you heard we’re coming back here in six months to revisit. So let’s not F*%$ it up.” 

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