Beach Access Issues
March 31, 2008

Surfers weigh in on threatened beach closures



Many people have rallied to protest the potential closure of popular portions of Cape Hatteras National Seashore to ORV use, and surfers have been no exception.  They have been fighting behind the lines.

They are business owners, artists, cooks, waiters and waitresses, schoolteachers, county employees, retirees, and annual visitors, all blended into the melting pot of Hatteras Island life. They are a part of the very fiber of our island culture, and there is no doubt that the potential beach closures will directly affect the access to the surf and the lifestyle that brings thousands of surfers to Hatteras every year.

Traditionally, surfers have been thought of as carefree people who have no ambition other than to surf. Though that might be true for some on days with great waves, this generalization is intrinsically flawed. Surfers by nature are nature lovers. They find peace, serenity, and clarity in the limitless expanse of the ocean. For most surfers, surfing is much more than riding the best wave and getting tubed, and for the "groms," it is even more than getting their photo on the front of a magazine.

Surfing is about patience, resilience, courage, and required skills that do not come overnight. Surfers understand the need for solitude and can quiet the world's demands for just a brief time while in the water. They are a people of method, vision, and hope. In fact, surfers are some of the most ambitious and driven people I know. On Hatteras Island, for example, we have surfers who own major real estate companies, serve as teachers and officials in our public school, own successful businesses -- from surf shops to motels, restaurants to grocery stores -- work for local, state, and federal law enforcement, work at the Cape Hatteras Electric Co-op, lead churches, and hold local government offices. These folks make up a community of educated, purposeful, and driven individuals who are deeply concerned about the possible beach closures that are looming on Hatteras, Ocracoke, and Oregon Inlet.

Saturday, March 15, two local surfers, Brett Barley of Buxton and Casey Head of Frisco, canvassed Hatteras Island, distributing flyers to focus local attention on the severity of the issue. Brett, a recent graduate of Cape Hatteras High School, and Casey, a student at Appalachian State University, have surfed on Hatteras their entire lives. It is their home break.

If the environmental groups prevail with their request for a temporary injunction against ORV use at areas of the seashore, Brett and Casey and other surfers would no longer have access to world-renowned breaks at Hatteras Inlet, Cape Point, and South Beach. Though many breaks can be reached by foot, there are significant waves that would be inaccessible if ORVs are banned. Also, the lack of access to these beaches would lead to overcrowded parking lots and increased parking on the side of the road -- which is extremely dangerous, especially during peak tourist season. It would also lead to many surfers trekking over dunes, which would cause unregulated wear and tear to the only barrier that much of the island has against the ocean.

While some may say that surfers are only interested in waves, I have found that there is a lot more to them than they are generally given credit for. When asked to comment on the impending decision on ORV traffic on seashore, I received some poignant responses.

From Jason Andre of Buxton:   

"Most of the surfers here will never leave and never live anywhere else unless it's a quick excursion to somewhere more exotic or tropical in the winter,” said Jason. “The reason is simple. This is one of the last frontiers for East Coast surfing. Though change has crept in slowly over the past two decades, most of it, thank God, has stopped at the bridge. It may be falling into the ocean, but it is a nice filter for commercialization.

“One of the greatest parts about our national seashore,” Andre continued, “is that you can drive to nearly any beach on the island, find your own secret spot, and surf virtually alone on one of the best sandbars on the East Coast. This all goes without saying that our local economy thrives off of the hugely free access to our own exotic spots along the beaches for fishing along side your best buddies when the blues are running off the Point, being alone and playing with your family down at the inlet, or getting your face pounded into the sand with your best friend during a massive hurricane swell on a sandbar you've been waiting all summer to see break again.

“There is plenty of room out there for all of us,” Jason concluded. “All of this deliberating is kind of a waste of time when put into the grand scope of things. I fully believe in being great stewards and protectors of this beautiful creation around us, but it needs to be done like most things, in the hearts, minds, and spirits of individuals empowered through love, education, and action and not through litigation, legislation, and bureaucracy.”

From Drew Scalia, owner Hatteras Island Boardsports, Avon:

"I've been on the beach many mornings at dawn, and the first person I see out there is the ranger making rounds on the quad.  As far as developing a vehicle management plan is concerned, I think that most people are willing to accept limitations vs. outright closure, but we also have to realize that there will always be those people who break the rules just as they do on the roads or anywhere else.  It's unfortunate that not all who use the beach clean up after themselves, but I believe that litter and burning of inappropriate items is more of an issue on ‘non-driving’ beaches than it is out at The Point or other ‘driving’ beaches.  I certainly don't want any harm to come to the wildlife of Hatteras Island, but I think that the NPS does a good job and simply closing the beaches as proposed is not the way to address the ecological issues.  There are ways to preserve access to the beaches and address the environmental concerns, but there needs to be an open line of communication among all involved parties."
From Kim Mosher of Buxton:

"They (Defenders of Wildlife and Audubon) are not fooling us, because they really don't care about the piping plover, and they really don't care about you and me! They will not stop until the beaches are closed entirely. People need to wake up or they will not have a beach."

From Casey Head in Frisco:

"I feel like a lot of people are being very apathetic about the situation and thinking it will never happen.  But since it could happen, I have thought a lot about it and talked to a lot of people.  Most people who visit the island thrive on the fact that they can drive on the beach.  It is one of the only places left in the U.S. that allows it, and it's a very attractive thing for visitors.  I fear that many people will not visit the island anymore if the beaches are closed to ORV access.  There is not enough parking for people to park and walk over the ramps.  And what about the dunes, when people start parking on the side of the road? They erode more quickly than they already are. 

“I also fear that there will be more trash and littering on the beach, because so many people will be in one spot and probably too lazy to carry their trash off the beach. The other day I went driving on the beach, and there were probably only two other people out there. I couldn't help but think how fortunate we are to get to enjoy it and how sad it will be if that privilege is taken away."

From Kevin McCabe of Buxton:

"It's so sad that surfers do not unite more, especially when they have so much to lose. The younger crowd is more worried about the camera on the beach and dad's credit card than getting involved in the politics of beach closings. They need to know what is happening on their own island. I was at the (negotiated rulemaking) meeting today and only 10 to15 locals attended.  If the beach closes on the April 4 date, it will mark the end of a long era of Hatteras Island surfing. No more cove, no more little secret breaks, and no more need for a four-wheel-drive. Also, if the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service eventually get what it wants, the beach from the first jetty south could be lost as well. First the beach driving goes, and then the beach access will be next. Don't let anyone try to tell you differently.”

In short, the surfing community needs to be concerned about the impending decision to ban ORV traffic on the beach. Like those who have spoken above, it is time for all surfers to step up and speak out with conviction and temperance. Help protect the endangered lifestyle of Hatteras Island.


Photos in the slide show are by Daniel Pullen (
[email protected], Flight was courtesy of Dwight Burrus, Burrus Flying Service.

Photos were taken on March 18 and are aerial shots of beach breaks that will be inaccessible if ORV traffic is banned on the island.

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