Ghost Tree Off Limits?

The Coastal Commission supports a PWC ban at {{{Ghost}}} Tree and Moss Landing but keeps the door open at Maverick’s

The California Coastal Commission made its findings and recommendations known on Friday, and the news ain't good for tow-at air guys and Ghost Tree chargers. It does, however, keep tow surfing and PWC use alive at Maverick's, albeit with a lot more red tape. This "Staff Report and Recommendation on Consistency Determination" was submitted to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), which will soon make its final proposal on the impending ban on PWC use in the {{{Monterey}}} Bay National Marine Sanctuary. History suggests the California Coastal Commission's recommendations are at least a good indication of what NOAA will propose.

The 50-page report goes in-depth on the use of PWCs in the MBNMS, recording "1200 uses" in 2002. The most regular use, it concludes, is at Maverick's. The report found – through "anecdotal evidence" – there were only six regular tow surfers in the Monterey Bay Peninsula/Carmel area and similar numbers at Moss Landing and around Santa Cruz, while Maverick's hosts 20 regular tow teams. Considering the big-wave safety factor, along with the Maverick's Surf Contest and Mavericks' lofty standing in the surf world, the Coastal Commission recommended a new, fifth "restricted use" PWC Zone be established at Maverick's. Currently, four smaller zones exist in and around the harbors within the MBNMS. This fifth zone, with a special access path that goes out and around "Blackhand Reef," just south of Mav's, covers the entire lineup at the famed big-wave break. Use would be confined to permit-carrying PWC users only, and only between Dec. 1 – Feb. 28 when NOAA declares a "high-surf advisory." The Commission also acknowledged the need for a year-round "water rescue" crew for high-surf days outside of the proposed dates. The date restrictions note the months when sensitive sea-life species' mating activities are at a minimum.

The proposal is likely to cause mixed feelings among both tow surfers and environmental groups. While PWC-using surfers are relieved they might still have Maverick's, the idea of shutting down Moss and Ghost Tree permanently is a huge setback. "This would mean that guys would have to practice in 40-foot surf," says Peter Mel. "Which doesn't sound like a good idea to me." Jeff Clark was also pleased that they're at least open to some PWC use at Mav's, but he still feels a real surfer needs to be more instrumental in the decision-making. "That's why I'm running for council," he said. "These are life-and-death situations they're playing with, and they're doing it all by reading a bunch of reports."

Environmental groups, and in particular the San Mateo Surfrider Chapter, have yet to make an official statement on the Commission's proposals. But it does seem in line with the kind of restrictions they were hoping for – a tricky balance of safety for big-wave surfers and protection of sensitive marine life that's been subject to an ever-growing squadron of PWC users.

The biggest news in this dense report is that the Commission is ready to give up the Ghost Tree. The boulder-riddled, super-tall righthander off Pescadero Point in Pebble Beach would be restricted from all PWC use, no exceptions. Since it's not a paddle wave, chances are the spot that's produced a handful of XXL top prize contenders will go by unridden.

Keep in mind that these are just formal recommendations from the Coastal Commission. Before making a final ruling, NOAA will make its own proposal, and then allow for more input from the public. Speak up now or forever hold your PWC.For the full report, click here: