Stand-up paddle boarding (SUP) has exploded in popularity in Sarasota County, and two business owners want to bring the sport to Siesta Key public beach. Now, county staff have asked for commentary from residents before the proposal comes before commissioners again.
Sarasota County commissioners debated a proposal from SUP Sarasota founder Rob Alfieri and Siesta Key beach pavilion restaurant owner Walter LaBonte for a six-month pilot program allowing SUP rentals and instruction from the main beach access or Beach Access 11 in March. Ultimately, they asked for staff to return with more information about the public safety of such a program and its feasibility.
Alfieri said that the program could provide another amenity for beachgoers, inspire environmental consciousness and further promote Siesta beach internationally.
"Here on this coast the flat water, the clarity of the water and the sea life makes it just as attractive to someone who stand-up paddle boards as the west coast is to someone who surfs," Alfieri said.
County staff explored allowing the activity within the 2,400-foot designated swim zone stretching from Gulf and Bay Club Condominiums to Beach Access 11, where it's currently prohibited by the county code, according to the draft of a memo to commissioners. Sarasota County Lifeguard Operations opposed that scenario due to safety concerns and worry that requests to allow kayaks and other non-motorized vessels into the swim zone would follow.
"My opinion lies with the lifeguards," Alfieri said.
The county could alternatively shrink the swim zone by 130 feet to accommodate paddle boarding. Staff would need to apply for a swim zone amendment with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, which takes roughly three months, according to the memo. If the County Commission decides to pursue the request, staff would draw up a solicitation for SUP vendors that could be expanded to other beaches.
"A big concern for us was not to have it infringe on the natural beauty or make it look commercial," Alfieri said.
Stand-up paddle boarding is currently allowed at eight unguarded, "swim at your own risk" beaches throughout the county.