|Beach Access Issues
| March 27, 2009
UPDATE….Wellfleet, Mass., rejects seashore request
to ban kitesurfing in town waters
By JORDAN TOMBERLIN
scored a big victory in Wellfleet, Mass., on Tuesday, March 24, when
the town’s Board of Selectmen unanimously rejected a nearly
five-month ban on the sport in the town’s bayside waters that the
Cape Cod National Seashore had asked it to adopt.
the vote, Trip Forman, co-owner of REAL Watersports in Waves, Christa
von der Luft, and Jody Craven, all kite surfing enthusiasts, met with
representatives from the Cape Cod National Seashore to share
information about how kitesurfing has been handled on the Cape Hatteras
National Seashore and to talk with them about the decision to ban the
sport in Cape Cod seashore’s bay waters.
although they said the Cape Cod seashore representatives didn’t
seem very receptive, the kite surfing community is not ready to give
not at all optimistic that the seashore will change its own approach on
this issue,” von der Luft said, “but we will continue to
try to have a dialogue with them.”
echoed that sentiment, saying that, even though Cape Cod is very set in
its ways and unlikely to change its approach to management, the
kitesurfing community plans to continue its efforts to be the most
respectful and proactive user group on the seashore.
March 19, 2009
Could Cape Cod’s kitesurfing ban make its way to Cape Hatteras?
By JORDAN TOMBERLIN
Cape Cod National Seashore’s recently heightened restriction on
the use of kites during the shorebird nesting
season—specifically, the prohibition of kitesurfing at all Cape
Cod bayside beaches and in all Cape Cod bay waters from April 1 until
the last bird has fledged—may have some pro-access advocates on
Hatteras and Ocracoke islands concerned.
However, a leader in the kitesurfing industry on Hatteras and a member
of the seashore’s negotiated rulemaking committee, Trip Forman of
REAL Watersports, says he has every reason to believe that Cape
Cod’s policy will not make its way to the Cape Hatteras National
Seashore superintendent Mike Murray says that there are “no plans to prohibit kiteboarding” at Cape Hatteras.
“It is a popular and appropriate recreational activity,” Murray says.
Forman and other kitesurfing advocates claim there is no science to
support banning the colorful “kites” that have become so
popular to propel surfers through the sound and ocean waters.
According to the Cape Cod National Seashore, kites simulate the flight
of birds of prey, and when used near shorebird nesting areas, have
adverse affects on their behavior.
For some years, CCNS has used that premise to restrict the use of
hand-held kites within 500 feet of a posted bird closure, but in the
fall of 2008, seashore officials decided to take it one step further.
They expanded the determination to include the kind of kites used in
kiteboarding and are now using that to justify a nearly five-month ban
on the sport during breeding season.
The main species benefiting from these restrictions? The piping plover.
While the CCNS Superintendent’s Compendium from 2004, available
online, prohibits kites within 500 feet of a closure, it doesn’t
say anything about kitesurfing, and it doesn’t detail how kites
negatively impact shorebirds.
The 2008 Compendium, however, claims that, “the use and launching
of these different types of kites have adverse affects on the nesting
and feeding behavior of endangered shorebirds, including flushing
incubating adults off their nests, causing nest abandonment, and
disrupting feed and chick-rearing.”
This new rule was set forth by CCNS without any input from the community of kitesurfers that use the Cape Cod area.
And what’s more, CCNS sent a request to the nearby village of
Wellfleet, a popular kitesurfing destination, asking the administrators
of the town-owned beaches to adopt the same policy, citing what many
enthusiasts of the sport consider the seashore’s already
“daring interpretation” of the available science.
In his letter to Steve Larsen, Beach Administrator of Wellfleet, park
superintendent George Price, Jr. asserted that “kites are
perceived as large predators flying/hovering over the incubating
plovers and terns, and will scare them off their
And after acknowledging Wellfleet’s popularity with kitesurfers,
Price added that, since the kites used for kitesurfing are much larger
and flown at lower altitudes, the standard 200-yard buffer is
inadequate, and the use of those kites should be prohibited all
together during the plover nesting season.
When Christa von der Luft, a Boston lawyer and avid Wellfleet
kitesurfer, got word of the seashore’s request to Wellfleet
administrators, she submitted a Freedom of Information Act request to
CCNS, asking for all documents it had regarding the issue.
CCNS responded with two scientific studies titled “Relationships
between Human Recreation and Piping Plover Foraging Ecology and Chick
Both studies were based on research conducted at Cape Cod, primarily by
Edwin Mark Hoopes, during the 1988 and 1989 nesting and breeding
seasons, which had been submitted to the University of Massachusetts in
1991 and in 1993 as his master’s thesis.
Support for CCNS’s claims that plovers perceive kitesurfing kites
as “large predators flying/hovering” over the beaches, or
that the kites will scare the plovers off their nests was weak, von der
“Notwithstanding CCNS’s proffer of this as an accepted
statement of fact, I saw no data in the documents produced by
CCNS…to support this statement,” she said in a letter to
the Wellfleet town administrator.
In fact, the 1991 version of the study explicitly states that the kite
disturbance data should be interpreted with caution, because of the
very small sample size.
And support for the hovering predator theory showed up only in the 1993
version and came from “personal communication” with Anne
Hecht, who works with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and has a
special interest in plovers.
Perhaps the most unsettling fact, though, is that none of the very few
kites observed during the two-year study could possibly have been the
kind used in kitesurfing.
According to Trip Forman, kitesurfing, also known as kiteboarding, got
started in Hawaii in the mid-to-late 1990s and didn’t become
popular on the East Coast until around 1998. And according to von der
Luft, kitesurfing at Cape Cod, and at Wellfleet in particular,
didn’t pick up until 2000.
CCNS’s use of the scant 1988-1989 data to restrict the use of
hand-flown kites is one thing, but the extrapolation to include the
kites used by kitesurfer seems an egregious oversight and a slap in the
face to science, say the critics of the seashore’s policy.
After two or three years of lawsuits, consent decrees, and negotiated
rulemaking, questionable science and loose interpretation are nothing
new to many islanders.
And in light of everything that has been happening recently, it’s
not hard to understand why residents and visitors might be concerned
about how a rule such as Cape Cod’s ban on kitesurfing
could affect access issues here—where some say that it seems no
request is unreasonable, no justification is too vague, and no
compromise is suitable.
Trip Forman, who represented the water sports interests during
negotiated rulemaking, believes that Cape Hatteras has a few advantages
over Cape Cod that will help protect the beaches here from such a ban.
“They’re under the same situation we were under three to
five years ago, when the flag was first raised,” Forman said.
“They don’t understand the differences between the
When the Interim Protected Species Management Plan, which took effect
in 2007, was being formulated a few years ago, Forman and his business
partner Matt Nuzzo noticed some problems with the way the word kite was
They made it a mission to educate the Park Service about the distinct
and important differences between hand-held kites and those used in
kitesurfing, which do not behave the same way in the air and do not
pose the same threats to plovers or other nesting birds.
Flown at lower altitude, kitesurfing kites don’t make swift,
sudden movements. They don’t dip and dive, and they don’t
have the same potential to crash down into a protected area.
“Kiteboarding kites can’t be flown the same way as
[hand-held] kites. They’re too powerful. It would be physically
impossible for them to fly that way,” Forman said.
And given the shape and size of the kites, they certainly don’t
resemble any birds that a piping plover would recognize as a predator.
(Pterodactyl excluded, for obvious reasons.)
But perhaps most importantly, when the kites are in use, they are not
hovering over the beach, scaring plovers away from their nests.
They are floating out over the water, looking more like clouds than
birds of prey.
The kiters assemble their gear on the beach and launch directly onto
the water, and they promptly land their kites on the beach when
they’re ready to come ashore. Kitesurfing is thus more closely
related to windsurfing or sailing than it is to flying a
Forman and Nuzzo were able to relay this—and much more—
information to NPS at a very early stage, clearing up a lot of
confusion and misconceptions about the kites.
And when they realized that the negotiated rulemaking committee had no
one representing the interests of watersports, they jumped on board and
were able to further educate the committee on the nuances of
“Over two and a half years, we were able to download a lot of information to the park,” Forman said.
“There will continue to be, at times, localized restrictions to
various recreational activities in resource sensitive areas, such as
the resource closures that occur during shorebird nesting
season,” said CHNS superintendent Murray. “The level of
kiteboarder cooperation and compliance with such closures has generally
been very good. If we were to develop any specific concerns about
kiteboarding, we would work with the watersports community to manage
such concerns through education, cooperation, and site specific
So, if nothing else, concerned individuals can take comfort in the fact
that, throughout the entire negotiated rulemaking process, neither a
restriction on kites nor a ban on kitesurfing was ever proposed. Maybe
there was some consensus after all.
Hopefully, kitesurfers in the town of Wellfleet will also be spared the iron fist of the plover cult.
The decision will go before the town’s board of selectmen on
Tuesday, March 24, and though von der Luft doesn’t believe
“there’s any reasonable basis for it,” she says she
doesn’t really know whether Wellfleet will adopt the ban or