Federal officials are no longer willing to allow surfers competing in November’s Rip Curl Pro Search contest at Ocean Beach to be towed in by personal watercraft, reversing an earlier understanding.
The National Park Service had initially told event planners that they would create an exception to a law banning such vessels from national parks as a safety precaution for surfers catching waves larger than 10 feet at the contest, which is slated for Nov. 1-11.
But after further review, officials determined that the beach’s own personal watercraft-equipped lifeguards could provide adequate safety without bending the law.
“They said that this was going to be for public safety,” said parks spokesman George Durgerian. “The more we thought about it, the more we realized it was actually for convenience.”
He said that if the park loosened its standards for the surf contest, it could set a precedent for watercraft use at future events, including the 2013 America’s Cup yacht races.
Personal watercraft are banned in national parks due to concerns about pollution and the safety of aquatic life. Some two-stroke engines of the type used in personal watercraft can discharge as much as 30 percent of their fuel into the water.
Dave Prodan, media director for the Association of Surfing Professionals, said he was disappointed with the decision. He said that while such vehicles speed up the pace of surfing contests and make them more spectator-friendly, organizers can’t be too cautious in a sport that defines itself by pushing boundaries.
“First and foremost, the PWCs at ASP World Title events exist for safety reasons,” Prodan said via email. “The ocean is a dynamic venue and it offers up a variety of challenges that can manifest at a moment’s notice.”
Rip Curl representatives were unavailable for comment.
Surfer safety has been a topic of discussion this year after accidents at the Maverick’s surf spot killed big-wave surfer Sion Milosky in March and nearly drowned Orange County resident Jacob Trette in January.
Trette, who was knocked unconscious by a wave, said he would have likely died had he not been rescued by a photographer illegally operating a personal watercraft.
“If there wasn’t a Jet Ski out there, I probably wouldn’t have made it,” he said.
Trette said there’s no reason why such vehicles shouldn’t be in the water at every major surfing competition.
“Seriously, one Jet Ski?” he said. “It’s sure worth it. It could save someone’s life.”
But Ocean Beach lifeguards, who will be equipped with personal watercrafts, say they will be able to respond to any potential emergencies. Lifeguard James Matthews said everyone on the crew is trained to use personal watercraft in big-wave conditions.
“These guys surf dangerous waves for a living, but if something does go wrong, we’re 100 percent ready for anything,” he said.
Rip Curl Pro Search
Where: Ocean Beach
When: Nov. 1-11