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Thread: The Great Debate: Should Jet Skis Be allowed At Mavericks?

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    The Great Debate: Should Jet Skis Be allowed At Mavericks?

    Shawn Alladio of K-38 Rescue conducts a training session at Pillar Point Harbor

    The recent death of Surfer Sion Milosky and near drowning of Jacob Trette has reopened the debate on whether Jet Skis Should be allowed at Mavericks, at least in the view of some of the surfers who frequent the break. This SF Chronicle article hits on some of the critical issues involved:

    Death is always near for the surfers at Mavericks, which is why the daredevils who ride the monstrous breaks would like rescuers with potentially life-saving Jet Skis to be closer still. The question is whether environmental laws should be changed to protect the safety of a group of thrill-seekers.

    A bitter debate over regulations limiting the use of Jet Skis erupted after the death of Sion Milosky, who died March 16 after wiping out on a monstrous wave at the world-renowned surf spot near Half Moon Bay. Milosky's body was found by a surfer who commandeered a photographer's Jet Ski, which was not supposed to be in the water at the time, according to rules of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The Mavericks waters off the San Mateo County coast are part of the federally protected Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary, a 275-mile coastal stretch that contains some of the world's most diverse ecosystems.

    Regulations protecting the sanctuary prohibit, with some exceptions, Jet Skis and other "motorized personal watercraft" - which have been used to save surfers' lives.

    Pent-up frustration
    Years of frustration with the ban came out when Jeff Clark, the former Mavericks contest director, blasted sanctuary officials following Milosky's death, accusing it of placing "no value on human life." The law, he said, "needs to be broken." But sanctuary officials say the law permits personal watercraft in rescue situations and would even allow a Jet Ski patrol under the proper authority, but surfers haven't taken advantage of these safety allowances.

    "They are blaming us for public safety issues," said Mary Jane Schramm, spokeswoman for the Gulf of the Farallones National Marine Sanctuary, which manages the Monterey sanctuary. "It's their choice. It's their judgment" to be out there.The restrictions on personal motorized watercraft were first adopted in 1994. Maria Brown, the superintendent of the Gulf of the Farallones and Monterey Bay National Marine sanctuaries said the rules are necessary to protect marine mammals, seabirds, invertebrates and plants.

    Safety concerns

    At the time the regulations were being reviewed, Brown said, even surfers voiced concern over their own safety by threats from fast-moving motorized vessels.
    Craft such as Jet Skis not only flush birds and scare wildlife, Brown and others said, but they could ram into marine mammals that feed on the surface near the shore. There is also pollution from the exhaust fumes.

    Schramm said controlling Jet Skis is particularly important along the Peninsula coastline this time of year because there is a harbor seal rookery in that area and it is breeding season. Sea otters are also seen in the area, and gray whales are currently migrating along the coastline, which extends from Marin County to San Luis Obispo.

    Schramm said sanctuary officials have bent over backward to accommodate surfers. When the rules were adopted, she said, motorized watercraft were restricted to four zones in the sanctuary, not including Mavericks. Then, in 2009, a new seasonal zone was established to allow tow-in surfing by Jet Skis at Mavericks in December, January and February. The caveat is that the watercraft can only be used when the National Weather Service declares a high-surf warning, a designation that is standard during the famous Mavericks surf competition.

    Surfer saved
    Clark and other Mavericks habitues argue that the seasonal zone is no help to people like Milosky, who was surfing after the competition window had closed and after the tow-in season had ended. Nor did it help Southern California surfer Jacob Trette, who nearly drowned at Mavericks in January when there was no high surf warning. Trette, who was unconscious, was picked up by an illegal Jet Ski, the owner of which risked a $500 fine.

    "In the case of Jacob Trette, we were lucky to have someone there who knew CPR and a surfer who knew how to operate a Jet Ski," Clark said. "This situation last week was just tragic. There's no wildlife hanging out there when there is 50-foot surf. I wish we had a Jet Ski patrol out there. It might've made a difference."

    Sanctuary officials said surfers can form a Jet Ski rescue patrol that's accountable to a trained government rescue organization like the Pillar Point Harbor Patrol, the San Mateo County Sheriff's Department or the U.S. Coast Guard. "Our regulations have never interfered with emergency search and rescue operations out there as long as they are carried out by an authorized organization trained to do it right," Schramm said. "There could be a standing surf patrol if someone would recruit, train and supervise them."

    Clark expressed little confidence in such a patrol, saying that he believes most government organizations know less than the surfers do about rescuing people amid powerful crashing breakers. "They don't surf. They don't know the waves," he said. "We'd have to train them."Experience counts

    Clark, an expert big-wave Jet Skier who has rescued surfers, said he would consider working with the Coast Guard, but San Francisco surfer Grant Washburn said he doubts even that would work.

    "I wonder how realistic it is to train, pay and maintain such a crew," Washburn said. "The guys on skis would have to have had big-wave experience - both surfing the waves and driving into the pit to get somebody. That kind of experience and wave knowledge takes years to acquire."

    In the end, Schramm said, Mavericks surfing comes down to risk and reward.
    "The ocean is very unforgiving," she said. "We have to understand its power and understand our limitations."
    Protected waters
    The Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary is a federally protected marine sanctuary that stretches 275 miles from Marin County to San Luis Obispo.

    Jet Ski restrictions
    Jet Skis, or motorized personal watercraft, are allowed in four zones year-round within the sanctuary: Pillar Point, the Santa Cruz Harbor, Monterey Harbor and Elkhorn Slough. Motorized watercraft are also allowed at Mavericks in December, January and February, but only when the National Weather Service has issued a high-surf warning for that area.

    Surfer safety
    Under the sanctuary guidelines, surfers may form a Jet Ski rescue patrol as long as it is accountable to a trained government rescue organization like the U.S. Coast Guard or the San Mateo County Sheriff's Department.
    Read more:

    Shawn at the helm shows how to clear a clogged jet

    The debate is far from over, however some history on the Jet Skis and the big wave surfing crowd bears some reviewing. The emergence of the tow in surfing and the popularity of Mavericks as well as several other locales on the California Coast began in earnest on the early 90’s. As an explosion of tow in surfers began to appear at any surf able break along the coast, environmentalists sounded the alarm and quickly lobbied the government agencies to take action. Many of the surfers, do what surfers naturally do and that is to resist authority, and many cases attending hearings with a “F-you” attitude, not exactly endearing themselves to the powers that be.

    Pillar Point Harbor has men in the water and on shore

    “They were pretty antagonistic” Recalls one Pillar Point Harbor Patrolman ”With some of the crowd not exactly going the PC route and believing the Feds had no teeth, they found out differently” The folks at NOAA quickly established a ban but the then yielded to a specific loophole to allow some Jet Skis, employed primarily for safety to be used during the window mentioned in article above. The use has been ignored and abused, and in the case of Sion’s tragic drowning, there were ski’s out, but no immediate responder when Scion 1st went down, essential washing out the argument had jet skis been there it would have been a different result.

    Shawn Alladio commands attention from her students

    But at the heart of the matter is the responsibility and liability. Certainly many government agencies have been trained in the big surf rescue techniques, The USCG, San Mateo County Sherriff, Local Fire Department and Pillar Point Harbor Rescue employees. However most are budget strapped and cannot afford to pay staff, much less the insurance, to stand guard in a potential life threatening situation to keep daredevils safe. The idea of some of the more qualified regulars who film or photograph the break has been raised, however they would have to become federal employees and dedicated to rescue and not image gathering for the idea to even float. Thus far no one has volunteered and the feds are not too anxious to take on the liability.

    So as it stands now, Mavericks remains a use at your own risk proposition.
    Last edited by Photoboy; 03-28-2011 at 03:25 PM.
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