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Public weighs in on surf contest at Swami’s

ENCINITAS — The city’s Parks and Recreation Commission heard public comments on a proposed surf contest at Swami’s Beach on Jan. 19. The evenly divided crowd of supporters and detractors were in agreement that the famous surf break is a “gem.”
City Council directed the commission to solicit public opinion about the feasibility of holding The Women’s World Longboarding Championship at the premiere surf break in October. The event’s organizer, world-class surfer and local resident Linda Benson detailed the logistics of the four-day event at Swami’s.
The contest would run from Oct. 14 to Oct. 17 with qualifying rounds Oct. 13 at Moonlight Beach. “We wanted to take as little time away from Swami’s as possible,” Benson told the commissioners.
Chris Hazeltine, director of Parks and Recreation, said in an earlier interview that no formal application to reserve Swami’s for the contest has been made yet. City policy does not address surf contests or special events on city operated beaches according to Hazeltine. “Every special operations request is decided on a case-by-case basis.” Because Swami’s is not designated as “reservable” the decision to issue a special events permit cannot be made administratively.
Encinitas resident Tony Kranz questioned the process of deciding on a case-by-case basis and said City Council should adopt a policy for reserving the city’s beaches for surf contests. “They should codify this so it’s not personal,” he said.
In fact, Benson’s reputation was cited as the tipping point for some of those previously undecided about the contest. Jeanette Prince, who surfs Swami’s, said Benson was the only person she would trust to organize a contest at the spot.
The phrase “crown jewel” was used numerous times by both sides to describe Swami’s. “The whole point of having something so special is to show it off at its best,” Jane Schumass told the commissioners. “Take a leap of faith,” she encouraged them. However, local resident and surfer Scott Bass said that while he didn’t have any “quantifiable” reasons to oppose the contest, he was concerned about access for surfers to the area. “We want access all the time,” he said, describing a “core value of surfers.”
Cori Schumacher, two-time world champion longboarder and Cardiff resident, and Benson explained in detail the low-impact of the contest.
To that end, Benson said that several modifications will be made to the usual surfing contest. Loudspeakers will be quieted and a boat will relay the scores to competitors in the water; scaffolding will be modest and unimposing; only a couple of tents will be used for competitors; vendors and nonprofit organization booths will be situated along K Street rather than on the beach; and a shuttle will transport viewers to the contest from a satellite parking location.
“I would never want to cause Swami’s any harm,” Benson said. She said the small number of contestants — approximately 64 — combined with efforts to tailor the contest to accommodate the limited access was possible.
Yet, several speakers said the location was not feasible for even a small contest. Longtime resident Calvin Tom told the commissioners he was particularly concerned with the parking and traffic problems that would occur. He said the limited viewing opportunities over the unstable cliffs at Swami’s would pose a potentially dangerous situation.
Michelle Woo Bowman agreed. She said other options such as Seaside and Cardiff Reef are better suited for a contest. “What is not an option is Swami’s,” she told the commissioners.