Ah, How I long for the days of Stand-up versus prone surfing enforcement discussions…
More than 10 years after Laird Hamilton debuted the “simplicity” of the foil board we find the technology has reached the masses and raises (no pun intended) the dilemma of traditional versus next generation equipment into our line-ups.
So what is a lifeguard agency to do?
To better understand the sport and dispel rumors or simply increase awareness the CMSCA offers this discussion.
First, you know you have issues when Kelly Slater’s first experience was less than graceful on a foil board. Compound that with those who can afford them are not Laird or Kelly or a professional by any stretch of your imagination (perhaps their imagination, but not yours…)
And while the discussion of SUP vs. prone has, in most places been a sharing of space, managed only by cold stares, under-breath remarks and epitaphs, and simple Bravado the foil debate brings new discussion topics while ramping up the debate of surfing’s “open ocean space”.
A “Hydrofoil” surfboard has a wing-like foil bolted to the underside, allowing the rider to move along a wave several feet above the ocean’s surface, thus reducing drag and increasing speed and maneuverability; however, the way in which the board handles is different transfers and even slight transfers in body weight can lessen control of the board.
It is this metal foil blade which has traditional surfers standing up and requesting marine safety officials to prohibit the board in the line-up. The injuries suffered by Yu Tonbi Sumitomo from the blade-like foil he was riding early on are enough to give pause.
The little town of Anglet, France, banned the technology and called the craft a “surfing guillotine” during the heated debates.
While many of our agencies have code sections or law which restrict dangerous games or activities on the beach, they typically are limited to the shoreline and therefore don’t restrict a foil in the water. And Harbor and Navigation Codes are vague at best in defining what a “vessel” actually is when looking at a human-propelled device. Most agencies maintain the rules of the waves are predicated on surfing etiquette, or what is now coined, and the “Surfer’s Code” and experience and education is the baseline test for where and when a hydrofoil should be used.
Whether your elected officials or your “self-proclaimed beach kings and queens” have voiced concern, the discussion raises similar questions which most of us have seen self-corrected between SUPs and traditional paddlers.
While there is no easy answer for those of us serving all members of the public, it is best to ensure staff is reminding all surfers of the inherent risk of surfing, and any carbon fiber or fiberglassed projectile in the line-up (with or without a metal sword attached) or the person using it lacking in knowledge and ability should be directed to an area void of others and away from potential hazards.
Take the time to understand the technology and speak with those who have mastered the craft prior to deliberating on the pros and cons of advancements in the sport of surfing. Be the experts within our profession and environment and be ready to provide a good answer for a complex argument.
Best of luck and let us know when you have solved the riddle of why any surfer, prone, standing, grinching, foiling, or otherwise can’t acknowledge a black ball flag and thinks the perfect wave lies within the designated swim zone.