End Game: Cape Hatteras

The silence was deafening. (At least in my own head.) Last Thursday marked the final meeting of the “negotiated rulemaking process” (aka Reg. Neg.) to determine ORV and pedestrian access along Cape Hatteras National Seashore for the next 30 years. Things weren’t looking good for scoring beach time — especially when it comes to scoring surf. I’d come to make one last plea in the interests of surfers, and more importantly, the waves.

Apparently, while fishermen, realtors, beach drivers and birdwatchers all agree that wetlands, dunes and water are ‘natural resources’, some non-access groups considered the energy pulses we ride on either side of Cape Point as afterthoughts — at least compared to the sand and sea that create them. My goal was to put a concrete value on our precious, yet intangible, partners in crime. But, unfortunately, I didn’t have much concrete to work with — at least not from North Carolina. So, while the local business owners and county commissioners who preceded me could point to “30 percent drops in sales” and “10% drops in tax revenue,” I was forced to spill forth figures from Trestles, Puerto Rico and the North Shore — then ask them to ‘assume’ the same holds true here. In other words, instead of cementing the important role surfing plays on Cape Hatteras — and Cape Hatteras on surfing — I was asking them to take another leap of faith on something they already little about instead of real demographic details that may have possibly changed their minds.

“It’s a shame we don’t have those numbers, “ says Trip Forman of Real Watersports. “Kiteboarding had the same problem up until a few years ago when they finally did a study. Now I see those figures quoted in Fortune, Time — everywhere.”

Of the 30 members charged with reaching consensus, Forman’s spent the last two years speaking for all seagoing activities: surfing, kiteboarding, windsurfing, sponging, kayaking. Everything. If chicken fighting had an Ocean League he’d be squawking for them, too. But, his real focus was on those of us who ride waves. Lucky for us, he’s good, making some of the more salient, pragmatic points about balancing environmental protection and access. He also made sure that whenever a piece of beach was under consideration, surfers needs were part of the argument. Unfortunately, the committee couldn’t reach a unanimous agreement, so now the Park Service will have to make the decision themselves. Still, he refuses to call the process a failure.

“Prior to this whole committee, the Park was only superficially knowledgeable of how the seashore was being used,” he explains. “Now they have a much more specific idea. Just like they looked to the environmentalists as experts and realtors as experts, they looked to us as experts on water sports. And we chimed in on every single decision and every single surf spot: whether it was S-Turns, or the Lighthouse or the Cove, we said ‘This is where people surf, and this is where [closure] is unacceptable.’”

They weren’t the only ones who spoke out. Over the past year, VB legend and Outer Banks pioneer Bob Holland, shop owner Jim Vaughn and native pro Jesse Hines all told the to the committee how surfing Cape Hatteras was critical to surfers’ lives and livelihoods. Knowing how important those comments were — and recognizing last week was my last opportunity — I reached out to the three most expert surfing opinions I could imagine: the Hobgood brothers and Kelly Slater. {{{CJ}}} and Damien actually own a rental house on the Outer Banks; and Kelly, well, he routinely claims Hatteras as the ‘mecca and Pipeline’ of his competitive youth. I asked them all to write letters for me to read to the committee, figuring if I couldn’t quantify the area’s importance in numbers, I could at least say: “If Tiger Woods told you one of his favorite courses in the world was in Hatteras, you’d take his word for it.”

Which is pretty much what they said. In fact, they said a lot more. (You can read both letters here.) Pretty bitchin’ considering I hit them up smack-dab between the ASP Banquet and the kick-off of the 2009 contest season. Hell, the potential 10-time champ must’ve been getting drawn-and-quartered by PR responsibilities right about then. But they all responded in record time, which goes to show just how much all three care about Cape Hatteras.

Now we need to put more faces and voices in front of the decision-makers to show just how important Hatteras is to surfers everywhere. Trip has less than three weeks to submit his final position to the Park Service. He’s asking all surfers to email him their name, address and phone number at SaveCapeHatteras@realwatersports.com — plus any positive opinions. (No “plover hating”). He’ll compile them all in a final submission that may be last word from surfers on this issue.

“The problem with the proposals out there is they’re a net loss for everyone,” says Forman. “The people are losing access, the businesses are losing money, and the birds and turtles are losing the best possible solutions for their survival. Our goal through the whole process — and the next stage — is that the new plan needs to represent a net gain for everyone: for the people who walk on the beach, who drive on the beach, the birds and the turtles that want to flourish on the beach. It shouldn’t be all one way or the other. We need to look at it with an open mind so the final plan is one where everyone wins. Because it can be that way.”

Help Trip help you keep surfing Hatteras: Email him your info.

Now help make sure the next time any surfer speaks out for a surf spot, he’ll have something concrete to say. If you haven’t taken the Surf-First survey, please do after your next session.

And for the full interview with Trip on the rulemaking process, it’s pitfalls and future, go to the Surf-First Blog. And for some interesting stats on the evolution of this access fight, click here.)

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