Miami Beach

Miami Beach backs off ‘knee-jerk’ reaction to kiteboarding — and most are happy about it

In a unanimous vote Wednesday, the Miami Beach City Commission left most of the beach open to experienced kiteboarders, backing off what one commissioner called a “knee-jerk” reaction to restrict the sport along the waterfront.

Before a roomful of kiteboarders in blazers and tinted sunglasses, the commission set new rules: No kiteboarding south of 24th Street, or between 25th and 29th streets, where the beach is severely eroded and home to high-occupancy condos.

But a small patch at 25th Street and everything north of 29th Street will be fair game –– as long as the kiters steer clear of swimming zones and are certified level three riders.

All beginning kiteboarders will have to take their lessons at the designated learning beach on 76th Street, commissioners said, where Bouchet Brothers concessionaire has its stand, the Kite Shop, offering equipment, apparel and lessons.

The motion settled a months-long battle between boarders, local residents, and public officials. Historically, kiteboarding has not been strictly regulated on Miami Beach, but an angry complaint letter lodged in October by someone who had been hit by a kite brought the sport to the attention of the city.

After the city received the letter, Ocean Rescue installed a lifeguard tower at 26th Street, turning the kiters’ favorite launch spot into a swimming zone. One of the city’s few restrictions on kiteboarding prohibits the activity within 400 feet of a lifeguard tower.

“There was one accident, and safety officials responded with a knee-jerk reaction,” Commissioner John Elizabeth Aléman said. “Lifeguard towers are for swimming safety, not kiteboard enforcement.”

Luco Romero, a member of the Miami Beach Kiteboarding Foundation, catches some air off Miami Beach. Daniel A.Varela

In addition to determining where kiteboarders could legally practice their sport, the resolution included three safety regulations, proposed by the kiters themselves.

▪ Kiters must stay 200 feet from shore at all times.

▪ Kiters must stay 50 feet from swimmers at all times.

▪ Kiters can use the beach only for launching and landing.

Now that regulations have been determined, city staff will draft a plan to figure out who will enforce them.

After the commission voted, two dozen boarders filed out of the room, cheering and clapping each other on the back.

“I feel very happy,” said Bruno Perez, a Miami Beach businessman and longtime kitesurfer. “I’m glad the city was able to reach a consensus. I’m going to the beach today.”

Residents who had opposed kitesurfing were also pleased. Although no representatives of the condominiums attended the commission meeting, several expressed their satisfaction with the result later in a phone interview.

“We wanted regulation and enforcement. We wanted the kites restricted from going to close to shore,” said Otto Ramos, a resident of Oceanfront Plaza. “I’m very much glad this is over.”

The only person who voiced unhappiness was Francisco Escudero, an 18-year kitesurfer who helped found the Miami Beach Kiteboarding Foundation, the nonprofit that established the safety regulations.

Escudero runs Skybanditz Kiteboarding and has been petitioning the city since 2011 for a special permit to teach lessons. But teaching permits are very hard to come by, Escudero said. The Kite Shop has the only kiteboard teaching permit on Miami Beach.

The kiter said he was pleased that recreational kiteboarding would continue along Miami Beach, but that he felt instructors had been scapegoated. Limiting lessons to the 76th street area would give The Kite Shop a monopoly on instruction, Escudero said.

“I’ve been painted as the bad guy here,” Escudero said, “but there could be lessons at other locations along the beach. I’m just going to keep petitioning the city.”

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