Citations for surfers too close to pier

by Chad Graves
Thursday, February 3, 2011

Johnnie Mercer’s Pier has always been a popular site for surfing. The waves become bigger and better along the edge of the pier. Due to the pier’s popularity as a fishing destination, the high volume of fishermen and—in the summer months—swimmers, Wrightsville Beach town officials established surf zones.

Even during the off-season, surfers may still received citations for surfing too close to the pier.

Town ordinance 92.12 states surfers are not allowed to surf anytime within 500 feet north and south of Johnnie Mercer’s Pier, within 100 feet north and south of the Crystal Pier and within 100 feet north of Masonboro Inlet Jetty on the south end.

The ordinance for surfing violations is not new, dating as far back as 1978.

John Rankin, a Wrightsville Beach resident, was issued a citation on Wed., Jan 26, for surfing too close to Johnnie Mercer’s Pier.

"That morning we could hardly see the waves breaking from the beach it was so foggy and there was no one fishing that morning," Rankin said.

Rankin, who surfs near the pier on a weekly basis, believes the town should consider some other kind of method to warn surfers getting too close to the pier before citations are issued.

"The rangers should at least flash their lights or something to give a warning before they write people tickets" Rankin said.

The citation, which simply states "surfing violation" can be filed as a civil citation resulting in a $100 fine unless it is unpaid. Unpaid citations can evolve into criminal issues in which the officer must persue the person and take out a criminal summons resulting in a misdemeanor charge.

"The attitudes among the surfers vary," said Sgt. C. Schwartz of the Wrightsville Beach Police Department. "Sometimes we have trouble getting people out of the water which can result in an arrest and confiscation of the surfboard when they originally would have just gotten a ticket or warning."

Wrightsville Beach Park Ranger Shannon Slocum said that the majority of the surfers he sees issued tickets knew about the rules, but just did not follow them.

"I would say that 99 percent of the time people know about the no surfing zones," Slocum said. "People are forewarned before they go out by the signs up and down the beach."

Many of the tickets issued come from complaints from fishermen, residents walking on the beach, or even other surfers who do follow the rules. Slocum also insisted that the rangers and police officers are not trying to look like bad guys, but have to enforce the rules consistently.

"We don’t know who the best surfer is out there or the worst surfers," Slocum said. "Between the strong currents close to the pier and the people fishing, the conditions are just unsafe."

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