Surfers in Emerald Isle, N.C., have clashed this week with city officials over an order that restricted access to the ocean due to the coronavirus outbreak.
The restrictions included Pine Knoll Shores, Indian Beach, Emerald Isle and Atlantic Beach, and were set to stretch through April 29.
The town’s theory was that the surfers pose a risk to first responders who could have to perform a water rescue. WITN.com reported earlier this week that swimming, kiting and non-motorized recreational water access was also prohibited.
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James Reese, the Emerald Isle police chief, told WPDE.com that police arrested three surfers on Tuesday after they refused to get out of the water.
A petition to stop the ban was started and gained 6000 signatures in about 24 hours. Carolina Coast Online reported that surfers also held a small protest near a highway in Emerald Isle.
Matt Zapp, the Emerald Isle mayor, said he will lift restrictions on ocean access on Saturday.
“Emerald Isle residents and property owners will be able to access the Atlantic Ocean for normal activities, including swimming, surfing, kiting, kayaking, and fishing. Residents can continue to walk, jog, and sit on the beach strand. All beachgoers must adhere to the current social distancing guidelines,” the statement read, according to the station.
Dr. David Taylor and surfer Doug Starcke told the radio show “Viewpoints with Lockwood Phillips,” that they were concerned that the city was overreaching with its initial decision.
Starcke, a lifelong surfer, said he is concerned that the restriction could make it harder for his children in the future to have access to the ocean. He said the sport is a way of life for his family and many others in the area, and these restrictions were unfair.
“It’s our desire to make sure that they’re able to surf freely in the future and not possibly fall under a mandate of further restrictions if we were to be quiet in this situation” that becomes the new benchmark on when the beaches can be shut down for surfing.
Dr. David Taylor, a physician assistant and avid surfer, said the city’s claim that rescuing surfers could overextend its first responders is misguided. He said he has been surfing for years and has never witnessed a surfer being pulled out of the water.
He said surfing is more of a culture than a sport where participants actually prefer to be “10 feet away from one another.”
“EMS is absolutely fantastic; they do an incredible job,” David Taylor, a champion surfer, told WPDE.com. “But, EMS will openly state they like having surfers in the water because most of us are CPR trained, and we can get to people quicker.”
President Trump has recently spoken out about the need to reopen the country after weeks of a virtual lockdown.
The president’s call comes as the economy is in a free fall and while more Americans are holding protests about what they see as an unfair overreach by the government.