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300-Ft. No-Surf Zone Plan Around Flagler Beach Pier Has Surfers Angling for Battle

| October 24, 2011

Heading for the pier: they know where the good surfing is. (© A.J. Neste)

As Tom Gillin describes it, the problem has been around as long as fishing and surfing have been around, if not almost as long as recorded history (there’s evidence of surfing as far back as 3000 years ago): where there are jetties and piers, there are surfers, because jetties and piers amplify the quality of surfing. And where there are jetties and piers, there are fishermen, because the same conditions that make for good surfing create eddies that make for good fishing. But fishermen and surfers are the yin yang of beaches: polar opposites connected by the barnacle-rich array of pylons.

And in Flagler Beach, they’re at it again.

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Fishermen on the Flagler Beach Pier are complaining that surfers are breaking the 150-foot no-surfing zone, preventing them from casting their lines or getting entangled in them. Surfers are saying that the problem, if there is one, is being blown out of proportion.

And Gillin, Flagler Beach’s director of parks and recreation, is in the middle of it all, trying to find a compromise before Thursday’s meeting before the Flagler Beach City Commission, which promises to bring out fishermen and surfers in force. He’s been talking to both sides and seizing on objective representatives from each in hopes of seeing cooler heads prevail.

Tom Gillin (© FlaglerLive)

That may be difficult, considering the proposal before the city commission: extend the no-surf zone to 300 feet. Gillin said he spoke with beach officials in Volusia and St. Johns counties, where similar problems have been similarly intractable. But in Volusia at one pier, the limit was extended to 300 feet, though enforcement there is not an issue: the Volusia County Beach Patrol is on duty year-round, and can go out on jet skis if necessary. “We don’t have the luxury of being able to do that here,” Gillin says.

Surfers, naturally, are incensed about the 300-foot proposal. Fishermen are for it. And for now, the city administration is behind it, because other measures have failed. A few years ago lines of buoys were stretched to demarcate the 150-foot barrier. They were cut. Steel cables were stretched. They were cut. And the tides played havoc with them anyway. Which leaves the invisible 300-foot marker as the latest proposal.

“It’s a public safety thing,” says Bruce Campbell, Flagler Beach’s city manager: surfers getting close to the pier can get hurt against its pylons, by getting caught up in lines and hooks. But a 150-foot limit is already in place to ward off against that. Why would doubling the buffer make a difference? Because, Campbell said, the thinking is that a 150-foot buffer may not be as clear, as cheating will always take place. Cheating will take place with a 300-foot buffer too, he says, but surfers might then encroach down to the 200-foot limit and still leave a wide berth for fishermen.

Surfers don’t buy it.

“I don’t think the problem is that big of an issue,” says Dennis Bayer, the Flagler Beach attorney and an avid surfer. “There’s just not that many days that the surf is that good—if you look at it today, there’s nobody in the water.” Most people comply with the 150-foot limit anyway, he says, but a few people on either side get ill-tempered every few years and revive the issue—or out-of-town surfers who have no investment in a long-term relationship with good local manners break the 150-foot barrier and cause problems.

Bayer says the matter comes up every few years. He was involved in pushing back against a proposal in Flagler Beach as far back as 1998 to extend the no-surf zone to 225 feet back then. The commission backed down. “Surfers who habitually offend the 150-feet zone will habitually offend the 225-feet zone,” Bayer said, making the point then that he’s making now: it’s an enforcement matter. When lifeguards are present, they can alert surfers when they get too close to the pier. But lifeguards disappear after Labor Day. Which leaves it up to police.

From February to October this year, police were called 40 times to deal with surfers breaking the 150-foot barrier. At least that’s the documented number. They likely dealt with the matter more often. They issued eight citations between April and October. Citations are $35 for a first offense, and $50 for a second offense.

Bruce Campbell (© FlaglerLive)

This year has been particularly rife with conflicts because the surfing has been very good and the fishing has been very good. Late summer and early fall’s severe storms off the coast of Florida swelled up the surf. That, in turn, intensified the piling of sandbars that takes place around the pier, creating excellent swells and, in turn, the sort of eddies where fish like to hang-out, making conditions ideal for surfers and fishermen. “There’s always a couple of guys who think they have to get closer to the pier to get the wave, because depending on the swell direction sometimes the best waves are right by the pier,” Bayer said.

Commissioners, Gillin said, will be looking for a compromise. “I think they just want solutions, what’s happening at other places, what works at other piers, what would be a compromise that would be acceptable to the surfers, what would be a compromise that would be acceptable to the fishermen.” But they’ve been down that road—or wave—before, only to retreat from more stringent regulations. Surfers will tell them that the 150-foot barrier is the compromise. Fishermen will say that it’s not enough. Surfers will claim fishermen already virtually have the pier to themselves but for a few exceptions that can be taken care of with better enforcement. Fishermen will say they’re paying money to get on the pier to fish, and their rights are being encroached.

And so on.

A.J. Neste, the Flagler Beach photographer, is a fisherman and a surfer. He sees both sides. Fishermen don’t want to hook surfers. But surfers, he said, “are not surfing there to aggravate the fishermen. They’re there to catch the waves.”

35 Responses for “300-Ft. No-Surf Zone Plan Around Flagler Beach Pier Has Surfers Angling for Battle”

  1. rh says:

    There are no-surf regulations and they’re not being inforced. If they were one mile and not inforced there’s something wrong that should be corrected instead of extending the boundries.. That sounds like something the school board would do to avoid the root cause..

    • Robby Rob says:

      I surf Flagler Pier every winter as a New Yorker and have respected the rules and never had a problem as I do every break.
      I did however have to paddle right up on the pier many times risking life and limb because I had to free the pelicans caught in the lines fisherman casted and then tried to reel them entangling them even more and hurting them..

  2. I agree with Dennis Bayer. Government is the worst way to regulate private conduct and should only be involved as a last resort when everything else fails. I question how many days there is even a surf big enough to enjoy, and on those days, how many surfers actually intrude into the 150 foot no surf zone. When a spectacular wave comes I question where it breaks in relation to the beach and the end of the pier. I am not a surfer, but I think most waves break closer to the beach than out by the end of the pier. Fishermen are not the only economics involved in the situation. When the surf is “UP” I’ve seen lots of beach babes and their boy friends soaking up the rays and enjoying sodas and snacks bought from local shops. The entertainment value to tourists is great and surfers gives the city a good image. Didn’t Frieda come from here? Her championships helped put Flagler Beach on the map. So my recommendation is to live and let live. Fishermen can hold off casting until the wave goes by and surfers don’t want to crash into barnacle laden piers.

  3. As a former Flagler Beach surfer and current surf journalist living in California, I feel it necessary to point out the fact that every single pier in California allows surfers to surf as close as they want to the pilings. In fact, piers in Durban, South Africa allow surfers to jump off them to enter the water. And in these places, there are never any scuffles between fishermen and surfers. It is only when a rule is set in place that problems occur. Why do fishermen want to cast their lines in the murky, churned-up waters of the surf zone? In the places I mentioned above, fishermen simply go to a spot on the pier where the surfers aren’t sitting.

    Please, Flagler Beach surfers, explain these points in the meeting, while remaining professional and well-mannered. Know that I’m with you in spirit!


    • Robby Rob says:

      I had to swim right up on the pier many times to free pelicans caught in the fishing lines then yelling at fisherman to stop reeling them in because they hurting the birds trying to pull them up.

      One guy was complaining I threw his lure in the water but I was holding the beak with one hand, trying not to get pushed into the pier, maintaining balance and trying to disentangle the poor animal and still not trying to get hooked. Even have a video of it from last year 2011. People cheered me!

  4. Ben L. says:

    I’ve surfed the pier for 27 years and caught some waves. I’ve fished the pier a few occasions and caught basically nothing. I’m not impartial to the argument. But I do know that the public safety argument does not hold water. The county (and city) supports numerous sporting activities that are much more dangerous than surfing near a pier. There are more injuries in one season of little league baseball than pier related surfing accidents in an entire year of surfing Huntington Beach Pier (where there are no pier-surfing zones and numerous surfers). The West Coast, Hawaii, and the entire country of Australia do not enforce any surf zone around their piers/jetties/reefs and life generally goes on. Yet, in a land where there are much smaller waves and fewer surfers, I always hear this lame safety argument. If you’re gonna bring “safety” into the mix, bring the data. A view beyond Daytona would be nice. And make sure to include the depression rates of all the grommets who no longer get to surf our home break. Once we move the peak beyond 300 feet, there really won’t be any peak or reason to surf the pier anymore. Maybe that’s the safe compromise. Publicly safe. And unenjoyable.

  5. Big Fish says:

    Let them surf.

  6. Ashley Capitola says:

    This is ridiculous. As others have said, piers everywhere else around the world rarely have these problems. There are epic piers full of shops and restaurants all over California that you don’t have to pay a dime to walk out or fish on! I don’t know how many times I have seen fisherman purposely cast their lines into a crowd of us when the other side of the pier is totally empty. This is a power-struggle that is never going to go away no matter what verdict is. I say take the sign down like everywhere else in the world because moving it farther down the beach will cause even more problems. The surfing population in Flagler has grown tremendously over the past couple of years. More people means more money for the city and more money spent on local businesses for that post session meal or drink and more people come to Flagler Beach to surf than fish. The fishermen make the argument that they pay money to surf on the pier. Well, no one makes them pay money. They choose to. Sorry our fun is free.

  7. palmcoaster says:

    Flagler Beach Commission in the wrong course again. First the vote not to allow dogs in the pet friendly restaurants that want to welcome us friendly pooch lovers to take them along to dine. Now I go to Lulu’s in Granada Blvd and A1A in Ormond, that invites us instead. Further more now they want to make our dearest surfer boys and babes unwelcome with more restricted regulations regarding these 300 ft off the pier now. That is “grand fathering” as we are supposed to be the birth place of Frieda Zamba and other surfer champions. Are we going to trade the delightful wave crest physical fit surfers for the more often view of an “overweight fisherman” exhibiting a massive huge bloodied shark caught of the pier? Versus this; Or this:
    Is more environmental friendly to attract the right type of healthier tourist and promote our kids to do so. Surfers attract tourist too and regarding physical fitness no questions about! I am not a surfer but I am on their side on this issue, no doubts! The violation fines for the one’s caught inside the 150 ft zone should be more than plenty enough! While having breakfast at the pier restaurant I loved to watch those surfer kids, imaging sharing my, coffe, eggs and grits with the view of a caught bloodied shark….?

  8. bogusdude says:

    Dude…Chill, its all good. Big Ocean to fish and surf. Move around.


  9. Kendall says:

    Can’t they leave the no surf zone as is on the south side of the pier and extend it on the north side?

    That keeps the fishermen and the surfers happy. If a fisherman doesn’t want to tangle with surfers they can fish the other side.

    I believe Flagler benefits more from surfers than it does from fishing. We get surfing visitors from all over the world. I hardly think we are world renowned for our fishing.

  10. ILoveThe Beach says:

    I have to assume that this also extends to swimming? So now the entire population can’t enter the water for a 600 foot buffer around the pier? That means so much of the beach where my children love to swim would be unavailable to us. That is not fair that these fishermen think they have the rights to the water. Go fish somewhere else. The life guards are near the pier and that is where families like to swim with children for additional safety.

    Then since they will push the swimmers down the beach then they will want to push the “no dog” part of the beach farther down the beach. This is a slippery slope people!

    This isn’t just about surfers, this effects EVERYONE!

    Show up and support NOT changing the NO SWIM (not just no SURF) zone!

  11. Jim N says:

    The solution is easy….
    No buffer north or south of the Pier…Just a no fishing on the pier….
    Yep make the first 150′ of the pier no fishing….
    Then require a surfboard registration decal on the surfboards being used in Flagler County..
    Just like a boat registration etc. etc. Charge the surfers $10.00 per year for the decal..
    Use the funds to extend the pier even further to the east!
    I mean after all according to the surfers it makes the surf better right? If it is longer there will be plenty of room for everyone and everyone pays the surfers and fishermen alike!

  12. notasenior says:

    Enforce the 150′ zone and leave it at that. If someone surfs inside the zone and gets hooked its their problem. Likewise, the fishermen have to realize they don’t own the ocean. I am tired of goindg to the beach with my family only to have a fisherman show up later and start casting around us. Then again I guess that is what scissors are for!

  13. Tyler Durten says:

    If the law does pass, I personally know more then one person who wouldn’t mind paddling out at 2am and sitting the pier on fire, hope it doesn’t come to that.

  14. Sherry Blevins says:

    As a parent of a surfing child doing competative surf I side with the surfers for many reasons,one being these Fisherman are downright nasty throwing 5 oz weights at surfers and threatening the surfers in general.Should I dare say what would happen if my child gets killed from some bully fisherman with nothing better to do with is time but cause trouble. Secondly The surfing community pours a ton of money into Flagler beach keeping the economy going compared to a few fisherman spending a couple hundred dollars a yr on a pier,I personally spent 1500 on boards in the last 3 mths not to mention the thousands spent on private surf teachers.Thre surf camps that run all through the summer ,the money we give our children to spend at local business while at the beach,not to mention the thousands Tommy Tant brings in yrly. I surf fish but guess what I surf between 10 and 18th where I can fish for free and not have to deal with the likes of some of those nasty drunks on the pier. Should the city decide to go with a 300 ft buffer zone I will venture to say they will see quite a bit of revenue leaving their pockets!

  15. Drew Coleman says:

    I’m both an avid fisherman and surfer. As a local ED doctor, I’ve not seen anyone hooked by fishermen or injured by striking the pier in the 5 years I’ve been there. I doubt if anyone’s fishing has been ruined by surfers in the past unless they started a battle with them. Extending the limit basically removes access to the superior waves immediately surrounding the pier-which are the sole reason that surfers are attracted to it. If an economic analysis were performed, I’m sure that the dollars spent locally by surfers in and around the pier would far exceed that of fishermen. If the ban itself were entirely lifted, Flagler would become a prime destination in the area for surfing. I don’t surf the pier, but believe that extending exclusive rights to fishermen is wrong and detrimental to our local economy. It’s a resource that should be available to all-not just who complains the loudest. Fair access is a must and I’m glad that there is now an opportunity for a real conversation.

  16. SW says:

    Well Tyler that was about the smartest thing I think you should not have said. Lets see Tyler Durten is the name if the pier does catch a fire. You can drive up and down A1A and see bigger and better waves both north and south of the pier but yet the surfer boys need to be seen for there attention (look at me I am a surfer). Thats a joke lets just hope one of the surfer boys dont burn it down now with the threats being thrown around. 300 ft is a good thing.

  17. Stewart Maxcy says:

    I surfed Flagler Pier for 35 years. Though not lately.. The crowds come and go and the young guys get their start surfing the pier. I can’t remember anyone getting hung up in a line but have seen some close calls from fishermen casting. If you choose to surf that close you do so at your own risk( and make others who follow the rules look bad) it’s a rare occurrence that surfing safety is compromised by fishermen and yes, the issue has been an issue as long as I’ve been here. Stick with the 150 feet.

  18. Ashley says:

    I see Flagler County Commissioners haven’t changed an ounce. What a bunch of loonies. Yes, let’s destroy the surf community this very town is built around. When people come here that’s what they think of… not fishing. I’m halfway disgusted that yet again surfers are treated like scum and the bully fishermen are treated like kings. Half the time when I’m simply SWIMMING they purposely cast their line as if they’re trying to hook me.

    And as for what other piers are doing?? Just like other people have said.. Cali doesn’t seem to have this problem.

  19. michele b says:

    This is surf town more knowed for surfing verse fishing! Taking that away would hurt the flagler beach badly ! I know I would not surf there anymore nor would we eat nor shop on the beach anymore ! It’s bad already flagler has nothing to offer our children! We have familys that have surf camps from other towns that come and stay with us for days and we are on the beach surfing from daylight to dark I know we spend at lease $200 or more a day per family. Let this change happen to the peir and that won’t be the only change flagler will see and I am only one person! Think about it!!!!!!!
    If you want to fish so bad BUY A BOAT BIG BOYS

  20. Kevin says:

    That picture is of a classic day of surfing. It brings back many memories invoking anger and the feeling to hang whoever hatched the thoughtless idea of no-surfing zones.

  21. Haven says:

    I grew up in Daytona I was with VCBP for 8 years. I surfed Flagler, OB Sea, Granada, Mainstreet, Sunglow, Ponce, and Smyrna enough to be considered a local at all of those breaks… There’s always going to be one or two d’bag surfers out that will push the tempers of the fisherman on the pier. Conversely there will always be one or two fisherman who feel it necessary to cast weights and hooks directly at the surfers.

    Most of us [surfers] don’t bother the lines, we paddle around them if they are out. If the waves are good right next to the pier we’re going to surf right next to the pier. Here’s the bottom line, I have never seen any evidence that the presence of surfers scares the fish away. If the few d’bag fisherman didn’t cast at us on purpose this wouldn’t even be an issue. We don’t want to get tangled in the line or hooked, so we naturally avoid the lines. The fish aren’t easy to scare away. Just let us both enjoy the water. We surf at our own risk; we know it’s dangerous and accept the consequences.

    I now live in SoFla and surf the Juno Beach Pier; the same battle happens here as well. My last encounter was with a fisherman who was targeting the bigger fish and letting his line run out over 200ft from the pier once he hooked a fish. He clothes-lined atleast 20 surfers who were well beyond the 150ft no surf zone. I paddled over and politely advised him that if he didn’t reel it in or walk to the beach we were going to cut his line. We didn’t have a problem the rest of the day.

    My first day surfing at this pier I saw a group of fisherman wait at the showers for a surfer and then surrounded him, one pulled out a knife. The police showed up and arrested the fisherman that pulled the knife.

  22. Cassandra says:

    I have seen more people surfing than fishing there. Both activities should be welcomed… if you tell the surfers they cannot surf you should tell the fisherman they cannot fish! I think the fisherman have been careless and down right stupid with throwing weights at the surfers who are just trying to catch a good wave, so if anyone was to have to find a new place it should be the fisherman for acting like children. The surfers are not there to cause problems, at least they are in the water surfing instead of on the streets causing trouble… don’t take that away from them. Most of the kids surfing there are good kids and have found something better than drugs and alcohol as after school activities. And when they compete in surf competitions they draw a lot of good press and people to the area, so why force them out? Do you realy want the future Kelly Slater to say ” yeah I grew up there but they banned surfing”?

  23. Kip Durocher says:

    This pot of BS stew smells a lot like Bruce Campbell and the three little mice ~ Settle, Shupe and Carney.

    Remember people, we have:

    Flager Beach City Council ~ Settle, Shupe and Carney.
    Flagler County Commission ~ busy with other boondoggles, not involved in this campbellism.

    You are able to vote all of them out.

  24. palmcoaster says:

    Lets attend today 10/27 at the FB Commission meeting starting at 5.30PM as the Chief of Parks and Recreations will bring up the 300 ft exclusion for surfers for evaluation and or approval. This is Agenda item #11. Hope will not be moved up on short notice, Then we pooch lovers will be addressed regarding the reconsideration of the allowing or not our pet companions in designated areas of our local restaurants that welcome us. Agenda Item #14.
    Lets support our surfers and our restaurants and pet lovers, by doing so we support ED thru tourism as well. I don’t live in Flagler Beach but I support common sense in this hard economic times.

  25. This isn't Palm Coast/New York says:

    Will our children be able to swim in front of the board walk like they have been able to for decades if they change this?

    I mean everyone is talking about surfing but what about swimming and any other water activities that have ALWAYS taken place right in front of the old Jiffy and in front of Finnegans.

    Like the doctor says in his post above, I have never ever heard of a surfer or swimmer getting injured from the fishermen.

    Surfcamps and surf contests occur right there in front of the boardwalk. These are both good for our economy.

    The fishermen can fish day or night-whether there are waves or not. The surfers cannot.

    Let the fishermen fish in their area and let the surfers surf in theirs.

    Don’t change the rules. Enforce the current ones.

  26. ilikemytazer says:

    they should be working,not surfing

  27. palmcoaster says:

    Tazer and who says they do not work…? Are you jealous of their physical fitness or their courage to ride those waves?

  28. michele b says:

    Don’t cry because we don’t have to work n can surf we can buy our food:) ha!

  29. notasenior says:

    Maybe we should take the tazers out of the schools and put them on the pier!

  30. more rules are't the answer says:

    If they can’t enforce the 150′ limit – what makes them think that they can enforce the 300′ limit?

    So now you can’t swim, skim board, soak, surf or just recreate for 600′ in the middle of town in front of the boardwalk?? Terrible idea.

    Pushing families away from the center of town is a bad idea.

    Either enforce the rules that already exist or eliminate them altogether and everyone surf/swim at their own risk.

    The city government making more rules is not the answer.

  31. thank you says:

    The Flagler Beach City Commissioners should be commended. I think they made the right decision.

    It is refreshing to see government listen to the people.

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