Local surfer/rescue leads to Navarre Beach review…

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Rescue leads to Navarre Beach review 2011-07-14

Surfer saves woman’s life, ordered to leave swimming area because of ordinance

BY JOE CULPEPPER Gulf Breeze News joe@gulfbreezenews.com

Kanzigg The Saturday morning rescue of a distressed Texas woman in the Gulf waters at Navarre Beach has prompted Santa Rosa County to launch a review of its ordinance that prohibits surfers from encroaching into public swimming areas.

Surfer Jonathan Kanzigg, a Navarre resident and Chief of the Midway Fire District, saved an approximately 30- year-old woman caught in a strong rip current at approximately 9 a.m. Saturday. Lifeguards had just started their eight-hour shifts and had yet to man the four lookout towers at Navarre Beach when the emergency unfolded.

Minutes later, lifeguards rushed to assist Kanzigg and another surfer who retrieved the woman’s accompanying young child who was wearing a souvenir flotation device. Following the rescue, lifeguards told Kanzigg and several surfers they could not re-enter the waters of the public swimming area with their surf boards. A heated discussion followed, and lifeguards summoned a Santa Rosa Sheriff’s deputy. Kanzigg and his friends returned to the rough surf approximately 100 yards offshore and never spoke to the deputy.

Lynchard No charges were filed, and the situation ended. Kanzigg noted that surf conditions warranted a red flag, but green flags from Friday still were flying early Saturday morning until approximately 30 minutes after the rescue.

“I was incredulous to the fact that I had just helped save two people from drowning, and now I had to leave,” Kanzigg explained Monday. “That upset me.

“The whole situation of it being after 9 a.m., lifeguards not being on their stations, and they were telling us we had to leave. There were several of us surfers – one’s a businessman, another a doctor – and we were, like, no, we’re not going to leave. We were a hundred yards off the beach surfing, and it doesn’t make any sense. We weren’t interfering with anybody.

“The county ordinance is legitimate, but I think there are flaws with it because all of Navarre Beach is a public beach.”

According to Roger Blaylock, Navarre Beach Executive Director, the public swimming area at Navarre Beach extends from a point 300 feet east of the new fishing pier along approximately 800 feet of beachfront eastward. An approximate 1,000-foot unrestricted area begins and continues to another restricted section of beachfront in front of the Navarre Beach Park.

Ten lifeguards are dispersed among four towers at Navarre Beach.

The ordinance does not specify a distance that surfers must maintain from the shore, which apparently means public swimming areas extend indefinitely into the Gulf.

Kanzigg promptly contacted County Commissioner Lane Lynchard to express his concerns about the ordinance. Kanzigg had expressed similar frustration two months earlier in a letter to Lynchard, who brought the matter to commissioners’ attention Monday and requested county staff to review the restriction on surfers at Navarre Beach.

“We need to be crystal-clear that the ordinance is for public safety,” Lynchard said. “There are similar ordinances up and down the coast. It is a safety issue.

“If you have a designated swimming area, there are certain activities that are just not permitted. Surfing is one; boating is another. In some instances, they are not mutually compatible.

“That being said,” Lynchard continued, “if we have a surfer who enters a designated swimming area in response to someone calling for help, then everybody involved needs to understand that that surfer did nothing wrong, that he or she needs a pat on the back, not to be scolded for entering a designated swimming area.

“If the lifeguards are not there before 9 a.m. and a surfer goes into a designated swimming area at 8 a.m. to rescue someone, God bless them. They are not going to get criticized from this board or anyone from the county staff down at the beach.

We just need to make sure that those incidents are handled appropriately.”

Blaylock on Tuesday still was investigating the matter. He earlier queried lifeguard manager Terry Wallace, who stood behind the actions of the lifeguards.

“The surfers brought the lady to the first sandbar, and our guards swam out to them to assist and inquire as to what their conditions were, whether medical assistance was needed,” Blaylock said. “They denied all offers for additional attention.

“Surfers historically have always been the de facto second line of defense (against potential drowning). They assert that they should be able to surf anywhere at Navarre Beach, but we’ve had an ordinance in place for decades that says between March 1 and Oct. 31 that watercraft and surfboards are not allowed in designated public swimming areas.”

A 300-foot buffer around the fishing pier prohibits swimmers or surfers from getting too close to that structure. Blaylock said surfers have facilitated discussions with fishermen on the pier to iron out concerns to keep the government from having to adopt any additional regulation. Swimmers, surfers and boaters can be injured by hooks or lead weights being cast into the water from the pier.

Lynchard said the county always is open to addressing any potential safety issues that exist on the beach.

“The lifeguards are there for public safety,” he said. “We are going to continuously analyze their function and role. We have some dedicated lifeguards, and they do a great job. They show up for work every day and make life-saving calls and efforts all the time. They are to be commended.

“Likewise, when a member of the general public goes out there and saves someone, they need to be commended as well. They are not stepping on anybody’s toes by saving someone in a swimming area.

“We appreciate Chief Kanzigg’s concerns,” Lynchard added, “and we’re going to follow up and try to resolve this issue in a manner that will serve us well moving forward.”

Kanzigg is glad the county will review the ordinance.

“I understand the need to keep surfers so many feet from the pier so as to not interfere with the fishermen,” he said. “You’re going to have surfers who are going to push that. That needs to be enforced on a caseby case basis, but it doesn’t make any sense for surfers to not be in the water at the public beach.

“We only go to the beach to surf when there is rough surf or lifeguards do not let swimmers into the water. What does it matter if we are surfing or not? There has never been anyone injured because of someone surfing at Navarre Beach. Where we surf is not in the kiddies’ splash zone, where kids are building sand castles and digging for shells.”

COUNTY ORDINANCE RE: SURFERS

Sec. 14-51: Watercraft, surfboards and similar objects prohibited in certain areas. Watercraft, surfboards and similar objects may not be used or carried into the waters of the Gulf of Mexico:

Between March 1 and October 31 of each year within any public bathing area at Navarre Beach as may be specifically designated by the county, or within 300 feet of any gulf front fishing pier.

The county shall post one or more signs in those areas designated above, advising the public that watercraft and surfboards are not permitted in such waters or area.

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2 thoughts on “Local surfer/rescue leads to Navarre Beach review…

  1. Tim Clark

    During my visit I was surfing mere feet away from swimmers on the west side of the pier, while better waves were breaking east of the pier where NO swimmers were in the area, yet I was not allowed to go.
    Such a dumb rule. If anything there should be a no swimming flag that prohibits swimmers from entering surfing areas.

  2. andy

    It’s not an enforceable ordnance. If the deputy was to make an arrest he would have to charge the person under some sort of “catch all” rule. Gulf Shores tried the same thing with their ordnance about red flag water. The cops wouldn’t touch it. The government has no business regulating personal decisions like surfing. Oh well I don’t care anymore. I moved to California. Have fun with that one.

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