Sharing the beach

Groups of surfers enter and exit the water at Linda Mar Beach in Pacifica on Monday. Equity and access to the surf spot are on the minds of a new task force in Pacifica. Adam Pardee / Tribune

Out of a desire to work out a more diverse and equitable access to surfing in Pacifica’s surf camps, the Parks, Beaches and Recreation Commission formed a Surf Camp/School Policy Advisory Task Force.

That task force concluded its first meeting Feb. 16. The goal is to study equity issues in the sport and to collect and analyze information that will lead to recommended changes in the policy that some say favors established camps over those with a specific diversity mission.

“For safety reasons, a limited number of surf camps/ school operators have been granted annual permits,” wrote Cindy Abbott, a PB&R commissioner on the Surf Camp Task Force in an email to the Tribune. “Historically, there hasn’t been availability for new organizations, nonprofit or otherwise, to enter this space as the current operators have been interested in continuing each year.

“The PB&R Commission, while having approved a pilot Community Access Partner Permit program for two nonprofit organizations with missions to bring more diversity and equitable access to the ocean and surfing, recognized the value and need to review the overall program versus a limited approach of adding the CAPP program only.”

PB&R approved such permits to be held jointly by Brown Girls Surf and City Surf Project. The permits are good through December, wrote Mike Perez, director of PB&R in a staff report.

Brown Girl Surf is an Oakland-based organization working to build a more diverse, environmentally minded and joyful women’s surf culture by increasing access to surfing. It also seeks to cultivate community and amplify the voices of women of color, according to its mission statement. City Surf Project promotes healthy living, personal growth, appreciation for nature and equity in surfing and is based in San Francisco.

City Council received 30 emails and heard from 13 speakers who said the permitting process makes it difficult for nonprofits like Brown Girls Surf and City Surf Project to apply for a surf camp permit, wrote Perez in his staff report for that June 22 meeting. The process to handle those requests up until now has been to put those groups on a waitlist.

Examples of different permitting strategies that could be employed, raised in the task force meeting, include considering the total number of people allowed on the beach, in a “load” number of students instead of permitting a static number of camps.

Instead of the automatic renewal to all permitted surf camps, the task force is considering a new permitting process to reach underrepresented groups. An agreed upon maximum number of such permits is being studied as well.

To apply for a CAPP, an organization will likely have to be a nonprofit. In addition, the organization must have expertise in providing surf programs to low income or underrepresented groups that face obstacles, such as cost, transportation, disenfranchisement or general lack of public access to the beach. The organization must deliver services consistent with the purpose and values the city wants on the beach. The organization must develop interpretive, educational and recreational programs with demonstrated results and provide significantly subsidized programs to those with low incomes.

The organization also must have instructors with training to run the program and cultural competency to address the needs of the participants.

“We will also be reviewing the approval process and considering a (request for proposal) for future camp operators,” Abbott wrote. “As we saw over this past summer, the outdoors, the beach and the ocean are important public spaces that have experienced increased use. This has led to overcrowding and additional safety and environmental, trash, wildlife impact, etc., concerns.

“It will be important for the task force to remain focused on our purpose of ensuring welcoming inclusive space,” he wrote.

In 2003, concerns were raised about congestion at the beach, and a PB&R subcommittee regulated the number of surf camps to three, regulated by the PB&R, Perez wrote. In 2005, City Council allowed local surf shops that hold Pacifica business licenses that carry liability and pay workers compensation insurance to continue the practice of employees teaching individuals and small groups with a maximum of five students, Perez wrote.

In 2013, changes were made to allow one local surf shop to apply annually for a permit and to increase the number from 5 to 12 for small surf camps. In 2020, the annual permit price was $1,060 for small camps and $1,280 for large camps. Two large camps have permits, Adventure Out and Surf Camp Pacifica; one small, University of Surfing; and one local shop, Perez wrote.

Three PB&R Commission members serve on the task force. They are Cindy Abbott, Kevin Kellogg and Cynthia Knowles. A traditional surf camp representative, Cliff Hodges, is a member, as is Mira Manickam-Shirley, a CAPP permit holder. Stefan Mayo represents the Pedro Point Surf Club, and Kimberly Williams represents San Mateo County Chapter of Surfrider Foundation. At-large members of the community include Nia Rivers and Malcolm Carson.

At the first meeting, people spent time getting to know each other, Abbott wrote.

“The city of Pacifica, by taking on this important work, can become a model of inclusivity by creating a fair and equitable Surf Camp/School Permit process.

‘Yes, it can be done!’ was heartening to hear as a clear commitment from task force members to deeply listen and work together to do so. It will require some change and compromise,” Abbott wrote.

The task force meets March 16 to discuss potential changes to beach use. CAPP framework will be discussed at the April 20 and May 18 meetings. On June 15, the task force will review the overall application process and permit approvals. On July 20, the task force will report back to the PB&R Commission.

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