By Zach Giroux for The Island Eye News
The subject of surf lessons, instruction Isle of Palms has been without for nearly two decades, continues to swirl in the beach community, and now the tides are beginning to change in favor of those yearning to shred waves in local waters.
June was the last time the topic of conversation made waves, as the city was exploring a non-commercial route through a city-run program with the IOP Recreation Department. Recently, however, commercial contracts with instructors who have a valid city business license have been considered.
The debate dates back to a 2002 ordinance that prohibits the sale or rent of any goods, merchandise or services or solicits any trade or business on the beach by entities not affiliated with the city – with the exception of franchises granted by the Town Council.
The city has incessantly wavered on commercializing the watersport for fear of opening a “Pandora’s box” as Mayor Jimmy Carroll, a lifelong surfer, has said in the past. The Council’s widespread worry is that the beach could be overrun by a ripple effect of commercial activity if one company is permitted to do business on the beach.
At November’s meeting, the Council changed its tune and voted unanimously in favor of a first reading of an ordinance that will permit such commercialization.
If the measure eventually passes, the surf instruction would be a one-year pilot program with renewal contingent on its success.
“We absolutely owe it to our residents to pass this,” Council Member John Moye said.
“It’s frankly absurd that our children have to drive to Folly Beach to get lessons for surfing.”
“We have control of the commercial activity that happens on our beach,” he added.
However, there are several stipulations that vendors will be liable to pay attention to. Surf instructions will be limited to groups of four or less, plus one instructor.
In addition, instruction won’t exceed two hours per day per business license.
Solicitating prospective students on the beach, on beach accesses, in public parking lots or at the Breach Inlet bridge will be prohibited.
Additionally, any commercial photographer or videographer who seeks to take photographs or shoot film or video in a professional capacity must submit an application for a permit no later than 14 days prior. A commercial photographer who is not soliciting business will not be required to obtain a permit. The use of the beach to take still photographs for a fee will be limited to one hour per day.
The city may limit any activities with the potential to create disruption on the beach or pose a health or safety risk to the public. Water safety certifications and requirements such as CPR, insurance and background checks will be discussed by the Council’s Recreation Committee prior to a second reading of the ordinance.
“This is an opportunity for us to provide a service that our residents have long asked for,” Moye continued. “There is a huge outcry of families and children that are longing to learn how to surf that are spending hours in the car each summer when they’ve got the beach right here at their fingertips.”