The city of Pacifica is embarking on a worthwhile, if perhaps overdue, effort to bring a little fairness to who gets in the lineup at Linda Mar Beach.

Those doing the work go by the unwieldy moniker of the Surf Camp/School Policy Advisory Task Force. Specifically, the group is studying how to dole out permits for surf instructors who use the busy city beach as part of programs that often introduce the sport to young people who find a lifelong love of the ocean and watersports right here in Pacifica. It would not have formed if not for a loud group that included a baker’s dozen of speakers at a June 2020 City Council meeting. In the midst of nationwide Black Lives Matter protests, speakers told elected officials that some nontraditional groups were feeling effectively locked out of the surf spot by virtue of a traditional permitting process that favored those with socio-economic power.

There are endless examples of surfers displaying kindness in the water and of surfers going above and beyond to befriend newbies and share the waves. As just one example, local surfers have facilitated surf days on the San Mateo County coast for developmentally disabled people. But the sport also carries a reputation — deserved or otherwise — for being a cliquey, “locals only” boys club.

That shouldn’t be the case on public beaches and in waters that are open to us all.

In recent years, more and more women and people of color have been paddling into the surf. Some are helped along by nonprofit organizations like Brown Girl Surf, the Oakland-based organization dedicated to bringing more women of color into the sport, and the City Surf Project of San Francisco, which is interested in seeing that all kids have the opportunity.

After the complaints over the summer, the Pacifica task force was formed to assure equity. Last week, the group had its first virtual meeting. Pacifica Parks, Beaches and Recreation commissioners brought together the surf community to hammer out recommendations for sharing the relatively small area between the north restrooms and San Pedro Creek so that everyone gets a chance.

It’s not the first time some thought has been put toward how to share this precious resource. In 2005, the city set a three-camp limit for the beach and adopted rules for camps wishing to use the beach. That had the unintended consequence of effectively locking out new players. Now, Pacificans are interested in equity. They are considering public statements of purpose like the one in Santa Monica that expressly states the beach is for everyone: “… that opportunities for surfing lessons are maximized for all segments of the community, including persons of all ages and economic groups, and that instructional opportunities are diverse, including private instruction and classes of various sizes.”

The nonprofits are furthering a Community Access Partner Permit, which .would ensure access for underrepresented groups along with opportunities for traditional surfing camps. It’s an idea whose time has come. Surfing is no longer just for towheaded boys with enough money to buy expensive boards and wetsuits. We’re glad to see the spirit of cooperation, and look forward to the task force recommendations.

— Clay Lambert

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