New ABCs for Paddle Board Lessons

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Paddlers near Crescent Bay. Photo by Charlie Craig
Paddlers near Crescent Bay.
Photo by Charlie Craig

Starting in July commercial stand-up paddleboard operators will need to pay fees, follow safety regulations and show proof of insurance in order to offer lessons and tours in Laguna Beach, under rules approved this week.

The law omits limiting hours of operation, as staff had pushed for, and capping the number of operators allowed, a move favored by some local instructors.

The Laguna Beach City Council approved the ordinance’s first reading in a 3-1 vote, with Council member Toni Iseman dissenting and Mayor Pro Tem Bob Whalen absent.

The Council’s obligation “is to the hundreds and thousands of people sitting on the sand, and they shouldn’t have to worry about a guided missile coming in with someone who doesn’t know what they are doing,” said Iseman, who withheld her support because she wanted elected officials to re-evaluate the law a month after it went into effect.

Mayor Elizabeth Pearson also pressed for a progress report, but agreed with City Manager John Pietig’s recommendation to allow a two-month trial period and an analysis of the results in September.

Operators mostly see the ordinance as a good starting point to better ensure safety as more stand-up paddlers maneuver 11-foot and longer boards among beachgoers in Laguna’s tiny coves. But some believe restricting the number of commercial SUP operators is the ultimate solution.

To dramatic visual effect, Laguna Surf & Sport’s manager Jason Watson relied on a helper to bring a soaring 10-foot paddle board into Council chambers to illustrate the size of the hard objects vying for space amongst swimmers and kids playing in the surf. On days when lifeguards set out flags to designate areas for surfers and swimmers, Watson asked the council to visualize adding an instructor and four students with towering boards to the equation.

Under the new rules, commercial SUP operators must hire instructors with first aid and CPR certifications and require them to attend a safety orientation with lifeguards annually. Instructors must also sport colorful hats clearly identifying their business. Operators must secure liability coverage and limit classes to four students per instructor, with no more than 10 people in the water at time.

Operators will be subject to a one-time application fee of $150 and an annual charge of $100.

Swimmers and sunbathers need to respect paddle boarders as fellow beach users and have responsibility to be aware of them, said Barbara Corman.

Marine Safety Chief Kevin Snow disagreed. “Public awareness is very low about these hard objects” and the onus is not on the swimmers, he said. Every paddle boarder entering the surf is basically requesting permission to traverse a swimming area with a hard object, which is what keeps the lifeguards busy, he said.

Concerns with crowding and parking pertained to mostly North Laguna beaches as a result of mobile operators there, said Costa Azul surf board and rental shop owner Rod Greenup, who advocates exploring a ceiling on operators.

“It’s a numbers game,” agreed Watson, saying the beaches are simply too congested with too many paddle boarders who pose a danger to surfers and to kids playing on the beach.

The City Council had rejected suggestions for limiting operators in preliminary deliberations in March 2013.

“There is a delicate balance between freedom and safety, and I think we got the balance right, at least as a starting point,” said Council member Steve Dicterow.


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  1. Perfect. Photo depicts gross violation of the Marine Mammal Protection Act by both kayakers and paddle boarders! Will the required instruction cover that aspect? Apparently not.


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