Ex­pert: Surf­ing ban may be il­le­gal

Land­mark rul­ing pro­hibits cities from out­law­ing the sport

South Florida Sun-Sentinel (Sunday) - - Front Page - By Su­san­nah Bryan

HALLANDALE BEACH – Surfers who dare to catch waves off Hallandale Beach are break­ing a town law that bans the sport.

But the ban it­self may be il­le­gal, ex­perts say.

A land­mark rul­ing handed down 48 years ago pro­hibits cities from out­law­ing surf­ing.

“That could be taken to court,” said Tom Warnke, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the Flor­ida Surf­ing Mu­seum in West Palm Beach. “The [Flor­ida] Supreme Court ruled you could reg­u­late it, but you can’t ban it.”

Hallandale’s ban has been on the books for at least a decade.

Back in 1964, the town of Palm Beach banned surf­ing. Soon Riviera Beach and Palm Beach Shores out­lawed the sport too.

The Flor­ida Supreme Court

down those bans in 1970, cit­ing them as ar­bi­trary and un­rea­son­able.

City At­tor­ney Jen­nifer Merino says Hallandale’s long-stand­ing ban needs to be changed. Merino, who joined the city in 2017 after the ban was put in place, says she’s work­ing on a re­vised law that could be voted on by the com­mis­sion as soon as next month.

Bob Jarvis, a law pro­fes­sor at Nova South­east­ern Univer­sity, says the le­gal prece­dent re­gard­ing a ban on surf­ing is clear.

“A city can ban surf­ing in an area where it might be dan­ger­ous be­cause of rocks or ships com­ing out or where they might be col­lid­ing with swim­mers,” Jarvis said. “But you can’t do a blan­ket ban.”

Jarvis said Hallandale is likely not the only city to run afoul of a land­mark case.

“This hap­pens all the time,” he said. “Think of how many or­di­nances a town has. And a lot of or­di­nances are on the books and never get en­forced.”

Hallandale Beach has not cited any­one for vi­o­lat­ing its ban, city of­fi­cials say. And if the life­guard gives them a ver­bal warn­ing, most peo­ple com­ply.

In Hallandale, surf­ing isn’t the only for­bid­den sport.

Scuba div­ing, spear fish­ing and skim board­ing are also pro­hib­ited.

And four years ago, Hallandale out­lawed the use of wa­ter­craft along its 1.7-mile beach.

Hallandale’s law de­fines wa­ter­craft as any ve­hi­cle, ves­sel or craft de­signed to move across or through wa­ter. And that in­cludes kayaks, pad­dle­boards and per­sonal wa­ter­craft like Jet Skis, city of­fi­cials say.

The law says wa­ter­craft can be used in des­ig­nated ar­eas but fails to iden­tify a launch area.

Merino says she’s re­view­ing that ban as well.

Vice Mayor Sab­rina Javel­lana said she didn’t re­al­ize the city had run afoul of a land­mark rul­ing.

“That changes ev­ery­thing,” she said. “I did not know about that Supreme Court de­ci­sion.”

Javel­lana says she’d like to see the city set up a safe launch­ing area for surfers, kayak­ers and pad­dle­board­ers.

“I think we need to open our beach up to kayak­ers and other wa­ter sports,” she said. “I’d like to give the life­guards dis­cre­tion to de­cide when it’s safe or not, de- struck pend­ing on the weather or how many peo­ple are in the wa­ter.”

Fire Chief Mark El­lis, who over­sees Hallandale’s life­guards, could not say what prompted the surf­ing ban.

But for life­guards, the big­gest con­cern is mak­ing sure no one gets hurt, he said. “You get am­a­teur peo­ple surf­ing and pad­dle­board­ing,” El­lis said. “If some­one falls and the board flies out from un­der them, it can hit a bather.”

Life­guards are en­forc­ing the ban on per­sonal wa­ter­craft and mo­tor­ized kayaks, El­lis said. And they won’t al­low surf­ing when there’s a crowd of swim­mers.

“We have been le­nient with stand-up pad­dle­boards,” he said. “It’s more of a live and let live ap­proach.”

That laid-back ap­proach may be why so many peo­ple have no clue about the ban.

That in­cludes Bruce Gip­son, a re­tired Mi­ami Beach fire­fighter who used to surf off the coast of Hallandale un­til he moved to Boca Ra­ton.

In late 2015, Gip­son and a friend set out from Bi­mini on a kayak in­tent on break­ing a record.

They trav­eled 54 miles in record-break­ing time — eight hours and seven min­utes — and landed ex­hausted on Hallandale’s sandy beach.

He had no clue they were break­ing any rules by land­ing there, he said this week.

“We landed in front of the life­guards,” he said. “And they didn’t say any­thing.”

He’s glad they weren’t told to keep on go­ing.

“I think my friend would have lost it,” Gip­son said.


A ban on surf­ing may be on the way out at Hallandale Beach.


A long-stand­ing ban on surf­ing may be on the way out now that Hallandale Beach lead­ers know about a land­mark rul­ing that pro­hibits cities from ban­ning the sport.

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