By Eric Heinz

Debated for years, “soft-top” surfboards may soon be allowed during the blackball hours at T-Street Beach, so long as they are less than 8 feet in length and equipped with ankle leashes.

The City Council is poised to vote on a resolution that would allow for a trial period between July 9 and 31 to allow such equipment to be used between the hours of 11 a.m. and 6 p.m. on weekdays and 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. on weekends when the city disallows all surfboards, hard-top or otherwise. The period runs from Memorial Day to Labor Day.

City staff may use results from the trial period to examine changing the policy permanently. If a trial is approved, the city’s staff is asking for direction on the implementation of the trial, including designated signs and flags. A yellow flag with a black ball in the middle is used to signify the hours.

This rule was put in place to allow space for people who want to swim or use boogie boards without the risk of getting hit by a by a surfboard. The city currently allows boogie boards 4 feet long or less with no fins.

One component the trial period proposal did not address was whether or not the boards can have fins, but that will likely be a topic of discussion at the City Council meeting.

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Surfers and beachgoers on social media were quick to point out the hearing, which takes place during the City Council meeting at 6 p.m. on June 19 at the Council Chambers at 100 Avenida Presidio.

Chris Monroe, the marketing vice president for Catch Surf, which makes the Beater board and other soft-top surfboards, said he thinks it will provide more surfing opportunities for people.

“The (soft-top) boards are safe, as long as they have leashes,” Monroe said. “There are intense crowds before and after the blackball hours, and I think it’ll be good to get more surfers out on the water.”

Monroe said the blackball hours have been in place with the city since he was a child, 20 years ago or so.  The soft-top boards are typically made with a softer foam, but the main thing is that they’re not hardened by glassing.

“Since then, there has been a request from City Council to consider a one-month trial period allowing ‘soft-tops’ (surfboards), with surf leashes, to be used in the swimming area at T-Street during the blackball time period,” the agenda report for the City Council item stated.

Although the San Clemente Times attempted to speak with a few people who were using body boards on June 15 at T-Street, no one seemed to want to speak on the record, but in casual conversation, they did say they would be supportive of the trial period.

Those views are not shared by all, however.

Jay Reale, co-owner of eBodyboarding.com based in San Clemente with his wife, Vicki, said his opinion on the matter is not based on business because he would stand to gain either way, as he sells body boards and soft-top surfboards.

However, as a parent of two children and a bodyboarder, he said he had serious concerns about the proposed policy change.

“When the water is full of kids and tourists and everyone else, it’s a hazard to have surfboards—soft or hard—and then fins are the main danger,” Reale said. “I really hope this doesn’t go through; it’s a misguided thing.”

The T-Street surfing policy was reviewed in 2016 and 2017 by the Beaches, Parks and Recreation Commission, but no changes were made.

“Marine Safety staff believes that allowing soft-top surfboards in the swim area would create a safety hazard for swimmers and a distraction for lifeguards. Therefore, we strongly recommend against it,” the agenda report stated.  “Although soft body boards are allowed in swimming areas, soft-top surfboards have much more mass as compared to a smaller bodyboard. This increased mass creates potential for a great deal of force running into a defenseless swimmer’s head with potential for serious injury.”

The report for Marine Safety went on to say that it would be difficult to enforce the rules between soft-top and hard-top surfboards because they look so similar, and this would cause a distraction for lifeguards.

San Clemente Marine Safety officials said they had no further comment when contacted on June 15, saying they will wait to see what happens at the City Council meeting.

San Clemente Marine Safety Chief Bill Humphreys, who developed the report for his department, was not on duty on Friday and unreachable for comment. June 15 was also a “dark Friday” day on which the city offices were closed.

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