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Surfing is not a crime

January 20 2012 | Beach access, Victories, Chapters, Beaches, Waves, Campaigns, Activism, Surfing,

Many of us assume things are different than they actually are. An example of this is the idea that surfing is not a crime.

The simple truth is that surfing IS a crime in many places.

The arrest that happened in Chicago a couple days ago made this issue jump onto a few people's radar, including Kelly Slater's.

On one hand this is awesome. It's great because more people are now aware of this issue. People get tickets or even arrested for walking across private beaches and paddling out in lots of places in the United States. Any and all attention pointed towards this ludicrousness is positive.

A few years ago in Montauk, Long Island a few people paddled out and were arrested. The "free the Montauk eight" campaign was created. Read up on that fight here.

Conservative estimates put 90% of the state of Maine as private, you can't access those beaches. What if 90% of California was private? Um...  a whole lot of people that would take notice. Think of Rincon being off limits... Swamis and Mavericks not accessible... The hard truth is that elements of California ARE private. The famous Hollsiter Ranch is home to some of the best waves in Central California and there is a really, really good chance that you'll never see them. I haven't. Walking onto the beach there is trespassing.

I said that on one hand attention to a surfer getting arrested in Chicago is awesome. The frank truth is that while attention itself is good there really aren't too many positive things you can point to when it comes to a surfer gettting arrested for paddling out.

It's stunningly amazing that in 2012, in a country that prides itself for freedom a person cannot face the natural elements, paddle out and surf without getting arrested.

Think about that for a second. This is the United States of America for goodness sakes. Your personal freedoms are agruably higher here than in any other land on the entire planet... except when it comes to surfing.

We, Surfrider Foundation, believe all beaches and all waves should be accessible to all people.

We believe that surfing is not a crime.

There are a lot of ideas in those last two sentences but I'd argue that the single largest idea in those sentences is the word "we." We can talk with our friends about what a travesty it is that people get arrested for surfing. We can even share it as a Facebook status... but if that is all we do then we aren't doing much. WE can change the laws in the United States. In fact our chapter network of volunteers do it all the time.

It was illegal to surf in Deal, NJ until 1994 when Surfrider helped open beach access for surfers there.

It was illegal to surf at Ortley Beach in Dover Township, NJ until 1996 when we helped open beach access for surfers there.

It was illegal to surf in Asbury Park, NJ until 2003 when we convinced local officials to repeal a ban on surfing at the legendary Asbury Park Beach.

It was illegal to surf in Rockaway Beach, NY (yes, the same one The Ramones sang about) until 2005 when we successfully overturned a long running ban on surfing there.

It was illegal to surf in Jones Beach State Park and Robert Moses State Park (New York) until 2006...

7 more beaches were opened to surfing in New Jersey in 2006.

Our New York City Chapter convinced the NY City Parks Department to open an additional surfing-only beach in Rockaway at 67th Street in 2007.

And speaking of Chicago, in June 2009 Surfrider Foundation's Lake Michigan Chapter and Chicago Chapters succeeded in making surfing officially legal at 4 beaches in the City of Chicago from Memorial Day to Labor Day with certain geographic restrictions (which are at the heart of the current story in Chicago).

And last month we helped restore access for surfers in Miami.

It's worth noting that changing laws like these it not easy. The equivalent of lobbing verbal rocks at the authorities doesn't do much. The process of changing the laws in Chicago is going to take some time. More importantly it's going to take engagement. If this is an issue that resonates with you, do something about it. The Chicago chapter page is here, ask them what they need. The Surfrider chapter network is here, engage. If you don't engage then please know that laws such as these, that seem so insanely odd in this day and age, will continue.

Surfing is not a crime, because we will engage until that is the case. We'd love you to be part of the force that makes that happen.

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