State preparing new rules for surf schools across the state

By Andrew Pereira
Published On: Jul 04 2014 07:10:34 PM HST
Updated On: Jul 04 2014 08:23:58 PM HST

The Department of Land and Natural Resources is about to regulate the growing surf school industry on North Shore, Oahu.

North Shore, Hawaii -

Residents on Oahu's North Shore are used to bumper-to-bumper conditions along Kamehameha Highway. Now, that traffic has moved into spots like Chun's Reef as surf schools jostle for position.

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Bryan Suratt of Sunset Suratt Surf Academy has been providing surf lessons on the North Shore for the past 12 years. During that time he's seen a tremendous growth in the surf industry, and estimates more than 50 surf schools are operating along the seven mile stretch.

"They just pull up," Suratt told KITV4. "It's like the wild west."

Surf schools that use city property must obtain a permit from the Department of Parks and Recreation. The permit spells out no more than five students per instructor and other rules, such as no soliciting of business.

However, the state's Department of Land and Natural Resources maintains the city permit applies mostly to the beach, and not the water. After five years of planning and two rounds of public hearings, DLNR's Division of Boating and Ocean Recreation is about to send new administrative rules to the governor. The new rules will require every surf school in the state to obtain a commercial use permit.

"They're just loving it to death and we need to get a handle on it," said DOBOR administrator Ed Underwood. "They're going to have to let us know where they're operating and we're going to also put in there the restrictions on how many students to instructors."

DOBOR plans on setting a limit of four students per every surf instructor, which is more stringent than what's required under the city's permit. In addition, advisory committees can suggest other guidelines depending on feedback from the public.

"The advisory committees are put together to advise us on recommended rule changes," said Underwood. "Maybe limiting the activity to weekdays only, or perhaps weekends and holidays no activity -- things like that."

DLNR believes the situation with surf schools on the North Shore has become unsafe, and the new rules are designed to level the playing field.

"It's just a lot of activity happening in one small area," said Meghan Statts, DOBOR's Oahu district manager. "You know, that can cause some problems."

Surf school operator Carol Philips of North Shore Surf Girls believes the state may be overreaching with the new administrative rules, but is willing to follow any new mandates.

"As a business that's already legal, I think more regulation is kind of a bummer," said Philips. "It's more expense (and) more time, so I'm not excited about it, but of course I'm going to comply.

Still unanswered is how DLNR plans to enforce its new rules for surf schools. Conservation officers are stretched thin after the agency was hit by budget cuts during the Great Recession. One idea is to have surf schools pay a monthly fee for their commercial use permits, which Suratt supports.

"It can happen really easy," he said. "Charge every school some money. I'm ready to pay."

The state already regulates surf schools in Waikiki by requiring instructors to obtain safety certification through something known as a blue card surf instructor license. Nevertheless, DOBOR is considering even more guidelines for the area, which includes some of the most jam-packed near-shore waters in the state.   

"We're working with the operators there to come up with another set of rules that'll be specific just to that area, which would be even more stringent than what's going on around the state," Underwood explained.

The new DLNR rules for surf schools statewide are expected to be sent to Gov. Neil Abercrombie for his approval in about two weeks. Philips hopes the state agency realizes the benefits of surf schools operating on the North Shore.

"It's a nice way to 'keep the country county,' but have some economic development in sports tourism as opposed to building more hotels," she said.

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