Kiteboarders and Beach Goers: How can we co-exist?

Susan Askew
Susan Askew

Kiteboarders and Beach Goers: How can we co-exist?:

City sponsored meeting generates recommendations

There was a spirited discussion this week as kitesurfers and beach goers discussed how to co-exist on Miami Beach. It was the second time around for a City-organized meeting to gather input. The first meeting in December was not very well attended so Commissioners asked for another round of comments before making any decisions on how or if to regulate kitesurfing on the beach.
Commissioner Michael Góngora, a member of the Neighborhoods Committee which will take the issue up at its next meeting, told the nearly 50 people in attendance, “The city is taking this issue very seriously. I know there are opposing views,” mentioning the “kitesurfers interested in practicing their sport and condo owners concerned about the dangers of the sport”.
Before the group moved through several breakout sessions, a video produced by the Miami Beach Kitesurfers Foundation (MBKF) played. The narrator said MBKF endorses and follows “three simple rules”: 1) The beach is only for launching and landing. “Once your kite is in the air, do not stay on the beach.” 2) Keep a safe distance from swimmers. “Stay at least 50 yards away.” 3) Stay at least 200 feet from shore.
They note their “ambassadors” try to stop “hot doggers” but they have no real enforcement authority and are looking to the City to help.
MBKF also wants to put an end to “uncertified kiters [who are] teaching others along our beaches” creating an unsafe situation and resulting in the City “punishing all kiteboarders” according to the video narration. MBKF says a proposal to move the kiteboarders to one location at 84th Street is a “bigger danger than solution” because it forces a large number of enthusiasts into one small area.
The group also wants acknowledgment for the good it does, cleaning up the beach and rescuing swimmers who get into trouble. According to the video, kiteboarding “only works when the wind is over 15 mph, the current is strong, and the surf is high,” conditions that create difficulty for swimmers. “Kiteboarders are often the first to respond” before lifeguards can reach a swimmer in trouble and, according to the video, they have rescued dozens of swimmers on Miami Beach including, on one occasion, a lifeguard who also needed help. It concluded that banning the sport is the “easy way” out.
When the video finished, Saunders said, “That is the position of the Miami Beach Kiteboard Foundation.”  Noting the members of local condo associations among the participants, she added, “I think we will have a very spirited conversation here today.”
In her guidelines for the breakout sessions, Saunders implored the group to “Listen with an open mind. I know many people came here today with a position but if we can all listen to each other, maybe we can come up with some great ideas.” She reminded them, “Nothing is personal. We’re just all very passionate about this and we’re here to come together.”
Kiteboarder Jim Spiers wanted to ensure the discussion was not characterized as kiteboarders vs. residents. “Kiteboarders are residents,” he said. “We’re condo owners and business owners as well. It’s not kiteboarders against condo residents. We are kiteboarder residents… we’re the same group. We’re all residents but some prefer this sport.”
During the ninety minutes of breakout sessions, the noise of passionate conversation permeated but, when it was time for the summary of ideas, there seemed to be some clear consensus with ideas in line with those made in December.
They included:
  • More enforcement with enforceable rules
  • Enforce existing rules against commercial teaching without a license
  • Ensure the safety of children and the elderly between 25th and 29th Street beaches
  • Certification (and decertification)
  • More areas to launch and land to reduce congestion
  • Limit kitesurfing in areas with a narrow beach
  • Provide a designated area for lessons / beginners
  • More access points for those that are experienced (level 3 certification)
  • Enforcement by a third party vendor in areas where lessons take place and in other areas by Ocean Rescue or marine patrol when offshore.
At the end of the summary, Joe Garcia, an attorney for the MBKF said, if the rules were followed and enforced “Most of the problems at 26th Street would go away.” That area is a favorite of the kiteboarders because of the challenging conditions there. Some beach goers have objected to that area being a launch site given its narrow conditions and the number of families and elderly that use the beach. Recently, a lifeguard stand was added to the area forcing the kiteboarders to move further away due to rules about proximity to lifeguard stands.
Garcia then made another suggestion. “If you move that lifeguard stand 150 feet to the north, then your existing rule would cover Club Atlantis and all the way to Triton Towers.” The Club Atlantis Condominium is located at 25th Street and Triton Towers is at 28th. Residents of both buildings have expressed concerns about the kiteboards. That, he said, would leave a 50 foot launch area behind the EF Language School. But, he added, “We want you to enforce the rules. No more teaching there.”  
The next step is for City Staff to come up with a set of recommendations for the Commission’s Neighborhood and Community Affairs Committee which will discuss them on February 21. For those who were not able to attend today’s meeting, there will be a web-based form to share input on the matter, which we will publish when the link is available. And, of course, you can always email Commissioners. The members of the Neighborhoods Committee are Kristen Rosen Gonzalez, Chair; Michael Góngora and Mark Samuelian, members. Micky Steinberg, alternate.

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