A petition has been filed with the Marine Board of the State of Oregon by an individual proposing to establish a "Navigation Safety Zone" on the south side of Cape Kiwanda in Pacific City, Oregon.
The said safety zone would essentially prohibit surfing whenever boat traffic was occurring at the Cape. The proposal stems from the accident in 2008 when a young Bend surfer, Cole Ortega, had his arm severed by a dory prop coming in through heavy surf.
The State and Ortega were found to be negligent in varying degrees and the boat operator cleared of any responsibility.
Now, 7 years later, Oregon surfers are faced with restrictions and the potential loss of a popular and protected surf spot. Surfrider has a petition to prevent the passage of this new and restrictive proposals...you can sign it here. Please do!
Although, I have serious doubts even about the Marine Board's jurisdiction in this matter, here's the letter I sent to them in May:
In Summary, the Proposed Petition to Establish a Navigation Safety
Zone on the Pacific Ocean at Cape Kiwanda proposes to:
navigation safety zone on the Pacific Ocean at Cape Kiwanda in Tillamook County
the marking of the safety zone with lighted markers
operation of a surfboard within the safety zone whenever dory rigs and trailers
are parked on the beach a violation of ORS 830.365(1) (operation of a water
ski, surfboard, or similar device in a reckless or negligent manner).
The actual end result of the passage of the Petition would
be an effective “ban” on a specific user group (surfers using surfboards “or
similar device”) within 1100 feet south of the Cape Kiwanda; currently, a
popular surfing location due to several factors including, but not limited to,
wind protection, favorable currents and access. Additionally, due to the
wording in the petition of “or similar device”, such a ban could potentially be
expanded to include other user groups; kayaks, stand up paddleboards, or even
While to a non-surfer, a ban on surfing in an 1100 foot
section seems reasonable as there are many miles of beach beyond the proposed
“Safety Zone”, most quality surf locations in Oregon are tied to protective
headlands or jetties; such as, Seaside, Indian Beach, Oswald West, Neakahnie
Cliffs, Tillamook Jetties, Cape Lookout, Cape Kiwanda, Otter Crest, Yaquina
Head, Newport Jetties and so on south. Cape Kiwanda is no exception, the best
surfing typically occurs between the Cape and south to the car ramp. While the open
beach break further south can be utilized for surfing, it does not provide the
protection (from wind and currents) or the consistency of surf (due to
refraction, bottom contour and currents) that the surfing of the lee side of a
headland, cape or jetty provides. Elimination of Cape Kiwanda as a surfing
option could mean that the next closest “protected” option would be Cape
Lookout to the north (with inherent access complications) or Otter Crest to the
south; both likely over an hour away and with far fewer options than the surf
at Cape Kiwanda.
The “ban” or “prohibition” on “operation of a surfboard” in
the area would be in effect “whenever dory rigs and trailers are parked on the
beach”. If followed literally, surfing would be permitted if only one dory rig
and trailer were present but a violation if two were present. If a surfer (or
surfers) were in the water before any dory rigs and trailers were present would
the surfer(s) be required to vacate once two dory rigs and trailers were parked
on the beach? How long before they were in violation? Often, sea conditions will
determine when a dory can safely launch and land; the same conditions often
determine when certain surfers can safely enter the water. Large surf which may
prevent dories from launching may free the area south of the Cape for surfers,
but might also encourage beginning surfers to enter the water in conditions
beyond their ability. Calm, small surf summer days are obviously days when dory
rigs and trailers fill the beach and when surfers of all levels of ability also
crowd the waters…and non-surfers crowd the shoreline. By all accounts there
have been numerous close calls with beachcombing tourists unaware of a dory
sliding onto the beach; in the event of an accident here, will beach walkers be
banned or will dories be limited in their access to launch on the beach below
Following the tragic injury of Cole Ortega, in which the 14
year old’s arm was severed, there were concerted efforts to communicate the
dangers surrounding the launch and landing practices of Pacific City Dories below
Cape Kiwanda. Local surfers and dory operators worked together to address
safety, educate the public and preserve beach access for all users. The State
and Ortega were both found to be negligent at varying levels. Posted warnings
of the potential dangers to raise awareness for beach and surf users seem a
better alternative than instituting a “violation” atmosphere targeting a
specific user group; i.e. A “No lifeguard present. Swim at your own risk” or some
equivalent signage, as seen on other of Oregon’s beaches but tailored,
obviously, to the more specific risks and dangers at Cape Kiwanda.
Additionally, the very notion of “enforcement” seems problematic in its own
right both logistically and financially for Tillamook County; not to mention
the cost of installation and maintenance of any “safety zone with lighted
markers” near a Cape with violent winter surf regularly in excess of 20 feet.
Ultimately, any ban or restriction will be bitterly
contested and will bring in outside interest groups. Further proposals and
recommendations on limits to specific users (Dories, Jet Skis, Dog Walkers,
Horses, Etc.) will be bandied about and contested, fought and argued. The end
result will be an increasingly thick book of rules and regulations until the
list of restrictions resembles those of California beaches. Even if the
proposal “wins”, everyone will lose in the end.
The real issue at hand is the massive popularity and
increase of use at Cape Kiwanda, especially in the summer. The natural beauty
of the area is strong draw and offers many recreation options, surfing among
them. While the proposed petition may have good intentions; every added rule
creates precedence for other rules, and every exclusion creates yet other
In ORS Chapter 830 (390.010 Policy of state toward outdoor
recreation resources), in section 5 states:
(5) It shall be the policy of the
State of Oregon to supply those outdoor recreation areas, facilities and
opportunities which are clearly the responsibility of the state in meeting
growing needs; and to encourage all agencies of government, voluntary and
commercial organizations, citizen recreation groups and others to work
cooperatively and in a coordinated manner to assist in meeting total recreation
needs through exercise of their appropriate responsibilities.
Thus, any proposal or restriction that adversely affects a
specific user group seems clearly at odds with Oregon State policy itself. Clearly,
surfers, who would be excluded from use of the area immediately south of Cape
Kiwanda do not support this proposal; nor does the Pacific City Dorymen's
Association as I understand. The following was released to local media 5/12/15:
The PCDA board has released the
The Pacific City Dorymen’s
Association has never proposed nor supported restricting access to any user
group at Cape Kiwanda.
In over 100 years of dory
launchings and landings at Cape Kiwanda less than four dorymen fatalities have occurred,
making it one of the safest ports in Oregon.
In over 50 years of sharing the
area with surfers there has been only one serious accident.
Instead, we have chosen to work in
collaboration with the surfing community, the Oregon State Marine Board, Oregon
State Parks, Oregon State Police, United States Coast Guard, Nestucca Rural
Fire Protection District, and the Tillamook County Sheriff’s Department to
educate all user groups to provide for a safer Cape Kiwanda.
The Board of Directors will again review
current safety measures and may propose additional concepts.
This statement was approved by the
majority of the board and is based on motions made and approved in previous
Ryan Cruse, Field Coordinator for Surfrider Foundation’s
“[Surfrider is] very much opposed
to this proposed ‘safety zone.’ We believe that the most productive way to
handle safety in this zone is for EDUCATED surfers and dorymen to work together
to manage this area.”
Under the basic precepts of 1967’s Oregon Beach Bill “the
public has free and uninterrupted use of the beaches along Oregon´s 362
mile-long coastline. The Beach Bill also directs that the ocean shore be
administered as a state recreation area. The Oregon Parks and Recreation
Department is charged with the protection and preservation of the recreation,
scenic, and natural resource values found on Oregon´s ocean shore”. [from
Oregon.gov “Oregon Parks and Recreation Department: Rules and Regulations”]. I
would argue that the waves that break upon Oregon’s beaches are a natural
resource of the highest value in a recreational sense for surfers and other
I believe that if this restrictive petition passes it will only
create counter petitions in an endless and contentious fight over access to the
waters below Cape Kiwanda. Surely, there is a solution that does not infringe
upon, limit or exclude the user rights of one group to the benefit of
another…regardless of whether it is the 100 year tradition of dory launching or
the 50 year plus tradition of surfing at Cape Kiwanda. Coexistence, not
exclusion is the sensible path to take for Oregonians.