By Jim Rutenberg for the New York Times
Famous last words, but Long Island and Rockaway Beach wave riders may soon be able to peel off their “Surfing Is Not a Crime” bumper stickers.
Ronald F. Foley, the director of the Eastern Long Island region of the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation – the main ticket-writing entity in Montauk – said that his officers had issued just one surfing-related summons in Montauk Point State Park this year.
Officials with the city’s parks department have issued none this year for surfing outside the legal breaks in the Rockaways. Patricia Bertuccio, a spokeswoman for the parks department, said that its officers have generally avoided summonses, choosing instead to direct wayward surfers to stick to the officially designated surfing beaches that were established in 2005 and 2007.
This is probably a mixed blessing for longtime surfers in the area.
On the one hand, they are not being harassed by the police. But if the phase-out holds, it would also seem to signify the growing acceptance of surfing as a local pastime, translating into more crowded breaks and more competition for waves.
“Surfing was not a very popular thing back when there were nothing but big boards and you had to have Hawaiian and West Coast-style waves,’’ Mr. Foley said. “Now, things are different, and the boards you have are different for the waves we have here in the Atlantic, so the interest has grown.’’
Mr. Foley said that growth has added to his challenge of balancing the different needs of parkgoers -– in the case of Montauk Point, he said, it is surfers whose legions are growing and fishermen who have been angling there for generations and have lobbied against the encroaching surfers.
Mr. Foley said he had responded by opening more beaches to surfing.
For instance, last fall, he quietly suspended the rule banning surfing near the lighthouse at Montauk Point State Park between Dec. 15 and April 1, when anglers are less likely than surfers to brave the chill. A couple of years earlier, the department lifted a prohibition at the decommissioned Camp Hero military base adjoining the park, and several years before that, it formalized the designation of surfing areas at Robert Moses State Park after a prolonged campaign by area surfers.
But parks officials seem willing to go only so far. They are not considering lifting the prohibition against surfing near the Montauk lighthouse during the spring, summer and fall, arguing that those months continue to be prime fishing season.
And William A. Young, president of the New York Coalition for Recreational Fishing, said his group would surely lobby against any further attempts to loosen the rules against surfing.
“We like to go fishing, unfortunately for some,’’ he said.
Even as parks authorities say they will continue ticketing surfers in areas marked with “no surfing” signs this summer, they seem to be struggling with what statute to apply when doing so after an East Hampton judge threw out eight surf-related summonses last year that were based on a statute prohibiting swimming aids. The statute was primarily devised to discourage diving. (The group of surfers in that case became known as “the Montauk Eight.”
Mr. Foley said the one surf-related ticket issued this year charged that the surfer had improperly used a fishing license to access a fishing area with his surfboard.
When asked whether the near-absence of summonses this summer was a reflection of the authorities’ diminished interest in writing them, Mr. Foley warned that was not the case. He said, however, he was not sure what was behind the dearth. “I don’t know if it’s quiet or if there haven’t been good waves this year,’’ he said. “That’s a suspicion.”
Waves is an occasional City Room feature chronicling surfing in and around New York City, and the issues important to local surfers. Its author, Jim Rutenberg, is a Washington correspondent who grew up surfing in New Jersey and continues to surf regularly on eastern Long Island. Ideas and comments are welcome at Wavesnyt@gmail.com.