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July 24th, 2014

Council considers kiteboard launches

T

he Village Council will consider a plan to let kiteboarders launch from the local beach – but if the situation proves unmanageable due to the high-flying, fast-paced nature of the sport, the colorful kites could be grounded.
Vice Mayor Michael Davey brought up the idea Tuesday, July 1, updating the Council on efforts to provide access for kiteboards and other non-motorized vessels, like kayaks and paddleboards. Currently, vessels have only one channel – on private property at the Ritz-Carlton, Key Biscayne Miami – to get from local beaches through a swim-only zone stretching 300 feet offshore.
“I think we can do it. I think we can work something out so they have access to a beach, but in a way that doesn’t endanger anyone on the beach,” Davey said.
“Let’s allow people to enjoy the water on the east side of the island.”
The Vice Mayor indicated he plans to propose an ordinance to create specific channels and zones for non-motorized vessel access, along with strict rules for the people who would use them.
While other Council members said they’re all for encouraging residents to enjoy the waterfront, some did raise concerns as to whether kiteboarders – who soar quickly through the sky on boards attached to large kites with thin lines – can safely coexist with other beachgoers.
Council member Michael Kelly said he didn’t have strong feelings about the issue until recently, when he spent a great deal of time at Commodore Club – the island’s most popular location for kiteboarding and a likely location for a channel – while monitoring problems with the Village’s previous beach cleaning vendor. Some Commodore Club residents have spoken out against locating the channel near their property, arguing it would rob residents of safe access to the beach.
Kelly said his observations lend credence to their fears.
He said he noticed numerous kiteboarders encroaching up to 50 yards inside the vessel exclusion zone to turn around and go back into open waters, fail to keep their kites in legal setup areas outside the Village boundaries, and land on the beach right amid large groups of kids. He said he witnessed one father become irate when he felt a kiteboarder had put his children in danger.
Kelly said it appeared wind speed and direction made it difficult for kiteboarders to ensure they could stay clear of other beachgoers. “Seeing it in person makes me concerned there isn’t a safe way to organize this,” he remarked.
His concerns had a perhaps surprising ally: Davey, who noted any proposal he makes to allow kiteboarders to launch from local beaches would include strict rules to address his own similar concerns.
Davey noted he lives near Commodore Club and uses the beach with his family frequently, and is therefore extremely sensitive to the safety issues Kelly mentioned. “Nobody is more convinced that we have to be safe in that area than me,” the Vice Mayor remarked.
With that in mind, Davey said he’s been talking to kiteboarders about a number of rules they say they’d agree to follow: only allowing certified users who have proven they have a high skill level to launch from local beaches, requiring a beach marshal onsite anytime launches occur, using streamers to identify which kiteboarders have permission to use the beach, etc.
That would be an improvement over the current situation, Davey said, because right now athletes of all levels – even teachers “pulling people off the beach” for lessons – are on the local beach.
“Let’s try to make a law that works, because right now, not having a law doesn’t work,” he said.
Davey added under the system he would propose, people who violate the rules would face major fines – and, if the plan doesn’t work, the Village would enact a stronger penalty: simply closing the channel and going back to a situation where kiteboards can’t launch from local beaches.
“It’s not a right, it’s a privilege. If you’re abusing this, this Council will yank it,” Davey said.
Local leaders said they’re willing to give it a try.
Council member Mayra Pena Lindsay noted the initiative might even have a side benefit: a main reason Key Biscayne hasn’t secured state funding for beach restoration is due to lacking public access; she said improving options for kiteboarders, paddleboarders and kayakers could help.
And despite his concerns, Kelly remarked, “I’m not opposed, but I think the devil’s in the details. For my vote, it’s going to totally depend on the regulations.”
Mayor Frank Caplan is confident the Council can overcome the concerns:
“I think we have a propensity to tend to overreact to complaints. Let’s try to fix this,” he said. “We solve a lot of hard problems. Either this is one of them we can solve, or it’s too hard because of the conditions that [Council member Kelly] observed, and it is unable to be managed because of the nature of the activity.”
Council members Ed London and Jim Taintor agreed there’s no harm in trying.
London suggested opening the channels for a certain number of days and then reviewing the situation before making a final decision – “We won’t know unless we try it,” he remarked – and Taintor said he feels allowing a channel at the end of the beach, like near Commodore Club, and setting rules with strong enforcement would be the only way allowing kiteboarding could work.
Taintor added he shares Kelly’s concerns about kiteboarding – “There’s a big difference with a kiteboard speed-wise compared to a paddleboard or kayak,” he remarked.

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