Pacific Beach kite surfers blow right by the law

Most of the time, nature solves the problem

The recent proliferation of kite surfers at Tourmaline Surfing Park has annoyed traditional surfers wondering whether the wind-driven surfers are legal at the surf-only beach.
  • The recent proliferation of kite surfers at Tourmaline Surfing Park has annoyed traditional surfers wondering whether the wind-driven surfers are legal at the surf-only beach.

During the Summer Longboard Classic finals last year at Tourmaline Surfing Park, an unusual event occurred. A kite surfer, apparently oblivious to the tournament, flew full speed into the contestants. Either the intruder could not hear or chose to ignore the protestations coming from over the loudspeaker. A cable connecting the man to his kite almost struck a surfer. This incident brought up a question: is kite surfing legal at Tourmaline Surfing Park?

My home surf break is Tourmaline, located in north Pacific Beach. “Turmo” became surfing-only in May 1963, the first such designation in the United States. It is commonly known as a beginner’s beach, a friendly place to surf. One reason for excluding swimmers is the danger posed by the difference in speed between swimming and surfing. A nine-foot surfboard traveling five miles an hour can crack a skull. Because of the large number of beginning surfers at Turmo, there is a good chance that someone standing in shallow water will get hit by an errant surfboard.

Over the past ten years, new surfing-related sports have proliferated at Tourmaline. Wind surfers, kite surfers, kayak surfers, and stand-up paddlers compete for the waves with the old-fashioned arm-driven surfer. The new sports have one thing in common: speed. Boards propelled by a paddle or sail go faster than boards pushed forward by a surfer paddling with hands. The faster you go, the sooner and easier you get into a wave. Kite surfing is almost like tow-in surfing, where a jet ski pulls a surfer into the wave. The speed record for a kite surfer is over 50 miles per hour, while a surfer rarely exceeds 10 to 15 miles per hour, and that is on a big, fast wave.

I decided to check the law to find out if kite surfers are allowed to use Tourmaline Surfing Park.

Short answer: kite surfers are welcome at Tourmaline Surfing Park, as long as they do not exceed five miles per hour.

Longer answer: According to the San Diego Municipal Code, Section 63.20.2, a surfboard is any “noninflated device upon which or with the use or aid of which a person can ride waves or be carried along or propelled by the action of the waves,” and all surfboards are allowed in designated board-surfing zones. “Vessels” are not allowed to exceed five miles an hour within 1000 feet of the shore; however, Section 63.20.15.c specifies one exception: in board-surfing zones, windsurfing boards — also called sailboards, which have a sail attached to a mast on the board — are exempt.

Most of the time, nature solves the problem of keeping surfers and wind-propelled surfers separate. The best time to surf is when there is no wind because wind blows the tops off the waves. But sometimes the surf is big and the wind is blowing offshore: an offshore wind holds up the wave and makes it good for surfing. These conditions are also good for kite surfing, and that is when conflict arises.

I asked several locals for their opinion on kite surfing at Tourmaline.

Arnold Holmes gets out of the water and away from “Those @#$%^* kite surfers!”

Arnold Holmes gets out of the water and away from “Those @#$%^* kite surfers!”

First, Mr. Tourmaline himself, Skip Frye: “It’s all about the aloha spirit. Everyone should share the waves. That said, it’s really only a problem when there is a north wind. When the wind is from the north, it’s great for both surfers and kite surfers. The faster surfers need to share the waves with the slower long- and shortboards.”

John, a man in his 50s: “I’ve lived in PB my whole life. I surf and kite surf. Normally, you don’t do them at the same time. But when both are out there, surfers must have right-of-way. In my opinion, they always must have right-of-way, and that should be the rule. But, kite surfers are a nonpowered surfboard, so technically, yes, they have the right to be here.”

Doug, a PB resident for 28 years: “If it’s too windy, you shouldn’t be surfing. When it’s glassy, you should be surfing, not kite surfing.”

Adam, a 30-year-old who has surfed in PB half his life: “Regular surfers should have right-of-way, like sailing boats always have right-of-way over powerboats. Are they allowed at Tourmaline? Legally, yes; socially, no.”

Damon Castro, over 50: “I throw rocks at them.” Do you think they are legal out there? “Yes, but I still throw rocks at them!”

Jason McLachlan, 39: “They are very beautiful. I have no problem with them as long as they stay out of the way of the surfers.” Do you think they are legal? “I have no idea. I’m not a lawyer!”

And the final comment is from my regular surf buddy, Arnold Holmes, 49, who has been surfing for 35 years: “Those @#$%^&* kite surfers!”

When the city council exempted sailboard surfers from following the five-mile-per-hour law, it violated the safety principle of separating people traveling at different speeds. Today, if petitioned, the council might grant an exemption to kite surfers too, but at this time, kite surfers must obey the five-mile-per-hour rule at Tourmaline.

Yeah, right.

(For more on the City’s law, go to erpsystemsconsulting.com/Testimonials.html.)

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Wow. The "Aloha Spirit" sure bit the dust at a speed in excess of 5 mph. A north wind indeed.

Seems to me whenever there is an event such as the Long Board Classic, the area should be marked off with buoys. Surely, if the prize money can be raised and the event has the approval of the local authorities (lifeguards, etc), buoys can be procured.

Also, I don't understand why the kite and sail surfers are not given their own separate area. The fact is, those type of surfers do not really need to be where the big surf is. That's the whole idea of having a sail or kite; you don't need a wave to go like a bat outta hell. Standard surfers do and should have priority access to the prime areas.

Kites and sails can get a good lift from just about any wave. Mixing boarders, kites, and sails together is just asking for a problem. Trying to control the speed of any of these methods undermines the very spirit that brings people to the surf. The speed is not the problem; having a mixed use area is.

Hi, I'm a somewhat beginner kiteboarder, so I have two things to add:

1) As a beginner you will NOT see me or my kind at Tourmaline. We're safe and sound kiting to the east of Fiesta Island in Mission Bay.

2) The kiteboarding community is very self-policing. There will always be exceptions, but it's in our best interest not to overly perturb the surfers and to stay out of their way. Tourmaline is one of the only places on the ocean in San Diego where kiteboarders can enjoy the good winds and waves that come with kiting out in the open.

The bottom line: can't we all just get along? :) If a kiteboarder at Tourmaline is endangering surfers, they are out of line and should be asked to get out of there. Otherwise, hopefully we can peacefully coexist, and in any case as the article notes under most conditions surfers and kiteboarders won't be out in the water simultaneously.

Kiteboarding does hold the world record for speed sailing, at over 60+ MPH. It's also been recently incorporated into the Olympics. However, typical board speeds in regular ocean conditions are usually only 10-20 MPH, perhaps more if conditions are right. Surfers on waves regularly hit 10-15MPH, perhaps more on larger waves.

As for the kiteboarder going into the surf competition zone: didn't this happen LAST year? This seems to be the only kiteboarding related potential incident at Tourmaline, despite the fact that there have been active kiteboarders there since 1999.

And speaking of potential incidents, why is someone is throwing rocks at kiteboarders, just because he doesn't like them?

Statistically, kiteboarding and windsurfing at Tourmaline is actually a rare event, as it requires a certain wind speed and wind direction that only happens during certain wind and weather patterns, during a certain time of year.

This season is typically December through March, and about 3 days out of the week. And then, the typical window of this wind is from about 11AM to about 3PM. There are rare exceptions, but it's actually not often that it's all that good for kiteboarding or windsurfing there.

So why do the kiteboarders and windsurfers go to Tourmaline when it's already crowded with surfers? Well, it's the only ocean spot with winds strong enough to ride in most of Southern California that time of year due to some unique topographical and meteorological features. Most other beaches just don't have the wind strength required to ride, so being the only spot, the kiteboarders and windsurfers go there. They aren't there specifically for the waves or crowds. They are there for the wind. And certain selfish people don't like that fact.

To use the author's point of "safety principle of separating people traveling at different speeds", it is not safe for riding surfers to be near surfers that are sitting in the lineup, particularly if they are not in complete control due to the breaking of the wave or potential wipeouts.

Also, kiteboarding is neither desirable or practiced in the same offshore winds that you mention surfers craving, as it blows off-shore (potentially blowing a kiter out to sea) and is not ideal for riding in waves (wind and waves going diametrically opposite directions.

Kiters are usually only found in side-on or sideshore conditions during conditions that usually last a couple hours a day out of a couple months of the year in Southern California, the same conditions that are usually undesirable for surfers (the direction of wind the blows the tops off of waves, not offshore like you mention). These are the conditions that surfers usually bemoan as 'blown-out'.

Also, kitesurfers are usually found way upwind and out to shore compared to surfers, who are usually concentrated in the areas with the best breaking peaks. There is a lot of navigable room for kiters, and they tend to be very spread out.

Also, the world speed records are achieved in locations with unique conditions such as Namibia, where riders plot a specific course by digging a shallow trench that fills with water, and is done in remote conditions in 40+ mph winds on specialized boards. To imply that they are zipping through a California surfing lineup at 50mph is disingenuous.

Lastly, beyond the legal issue of right-of-way, there is the social issue of courtesy and respect. There are ocean users who are tolerant and sharing of our natural resources of water, wind, and waves, and there are those who seek to limit them to either just themselves or their limited demographic.

Resistance to different recreational activities is often practiced, sometimes with stinkeye, cursing, or resorting to violence or threats of violence. (see - longboard vs shortboard vs SUP vs bodyboard vs kneeboard vs kayak vs kiteboard vs bodysurf vs swimmer).

The title, byline, and general tone of your article appears to pander to the rock-throwing crowd and shows a myopic perspective towards shared use of California's greatest natural resource.

I've been surfing for the last 30 years or so and just started kiting 4 years ago. So, I can relate to both sides. First off, surfers are territorial. Why? Because there are only so many waves to go around. Over the last 30 years, I've seen the surfing population in San Diego explode. Now, we've become desperados that are willing to sit in the lineup for 2 hours to score a dozen 5-10 second rides. Since everyone in the lineup is pretty much after the same thing, the last thing you want is more guys out. LOCALISM has been around since as long as I can remember and it's only gotten worse. So bad, that even the most beginner break in the San Diego,"Tourmaline," has now been infected.

I just kite with my surfboard mostly nowadays. You can make junky surf really fun with a kite. Like someone mentioned, it's like tow-in surfing. I can catch 30-40 waves in a good session and link together sections with the power of my kite that would otherwise be close outs. Airs are a blast with a kite too. But the best part is, it's just usually me with my good friends, just like surfing was in the early 80's:) Lastly, get your facts right Russell. Do an hour of research before you write about something you know nothing about. No one kites in offshore wind.

Sorry folks, we are going to close Tourmaline to surfing and install small sea wall for a seal habitat to keep the tourists in P.B.

Hey, any of you old farts remember when 'Skinheads" meant the Hari Krisna, not the PB Surf Nazis? RIP Shorty!

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