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Surf contest location controversy heats up

ENCINITAS — The community is divided by a recent move to hold a surf contest at Swami’s. The Women’s World Longboarding Championship could be the first major competition held at the premiere surf break if organizers have their say.
World-class surfer and local resident Linda Benson has asked the city’s Parks and Recreation Department to consider allowing her to hold the four-day event at Swamis. The contest would run from Oct. 14 to Oct. 17 with qualifying rounds on Oct. 13 at Moonlight Beach.
While Benson has the support of many in the community, including surfers and business organizations, there are a number of detractors. Jean-Paul St. Pierre, author of and a local surfer, said the contest would set a bad precedent. “Once you have one contest at Swami’s, then my concern is that you will end up with five or six,” he said. “You end up privatizing a public beach.”
But others view the relatively small contest as an opportunity to bring the community together while celebrating women’s longboarding, which has traditionally been treated as the “stepchild” in surfing and usually brings in modest prize money. “We want to do everything we can to make it a low-impact contest. We’re not looking to take away public access to the beach,” Benson said.
To that end, Benson said that several modifications will be made to the usual surfing contest. Loudspeakers will be quieted and a boat will relay the scores to competitors in the water; scaffolding will be modest and unimposing; only a few tents will be used for competitors; and vendors and nonprofit organization booths will be situated along K Street rather than on the beach.
The contest and accompanying festival along K Street are designed to be a community affair according to Benson. All proceeds from a surfboard raffle will go to Keep-A-Breast, a local nonprofit, in honor of breast cancer awareness.
Chris Hazeltine, director of Parks and Recreation, said no formal application to reserve Swami’s for the contest has been made yet. City policy does not address surf contests or special events on city-operated beaches according to Hazeltine. “Every special operations request is decided on a case-by-case basis.” Because Swami’s is not designated as “reservable” the decision to issue a special events permit cannot be made administratively.
As a result, the Parks and Recreation Commission will form a subcommittee to further review the proposed plan to reserve Swami’s and make a recommendation to City Council. Hazeltine said that while no timeline is set for making a decision, he anticipates the subcommittee will bring the matter before the council in the early part of the new year. “It’s kind of a waiting game right now,” he said. “There will be a thorough review process and certainly there will be an opportunity for public input.”
The contest has been held in Biarritz, France, hosted by Roxy Europe for the past three years. According to Benson, the majority of the competitors want the contest to return to the United States because of the cost of travel to the event.
Indeed, Cori Schumacher, two-time world champion longboarder and Cardiff resident, said the move to Swami’s would not only cut down on the cost to competitors, but also create a “contest that is focusing on the spirit of the sport.” She described women longboarders as a close-knit group who share camaraderie even in the heat of a competitive surf contest. “We do it (longboard surfing) because we love it and we love each other,” she said.

1 comment

TanyaBrooking November 18, 2009 at 12:14 pm

Your article title is more than a little mis-leading, Wehtahnah. Where exactly is the “controversy”? You barely MENTION the grassroots backlash against the commercialization of Swami’s or the reasons for that backlash (i.e. environmental impact to a fragile ecosystem, increase in traffic/noise/garbage, the lack of transparency of this whole process, the potential of opening the door for numerous additional surf contests, etc. etc.) How about a TWO-sided article on this “controversy”, instead of a blatant endorsement of the contest?

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