Beach Access Issues
March 27, 2009

UPDATE….Wellfleet, Mass., rejects seashore request
to ban kitesurfing in town waters


Kitesurfers 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.

After 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.

And although they said the Cape Cod seashore representatives didn’t seem very receptive, the kite surfing community is not ready to give up.

“I'm 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.”

Forman 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?


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.

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 nests.”   

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 Survival.”

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 Luft said.

“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 kites.”

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 being used.

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 kite.  

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 kitesurfing.

“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 measures.”

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 not.  

 Comments are always welcomed!

     Subject :

     Name :  (required)

     Email :  (required, will not be published)

     City :   (required)    State :   (required)

     Your Comments:

May be posted on the Letters to the Editor page at the discretion of the editor.