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Sarasota Thursday, Aug. 7, 2014 3 years ago

Safety concerns surface in SUP proposal

by: Jessica Salmond Staff Writer

While the county considers allowing stand-up paddleboard rentals on public beaches, others are concerned with its affect on public safety.

The Sarasota County Commission received a proposal in February from Rob Alfieri, owner of SUP Sarasota and founder of the Sarasota SUP Race Series, to allow a vendor to rent boards at the beach.
Currently, paddleboarders can launch from any non-lifeguarded public beach access area. Watercrafts of any kind are prohibited on the lifeguarded sections of the beach, said Tricia Wisner, the business development coordinator for Sarasota County Parks and Recreation Department. There is about 2,400 feet of lifeguarded beach on Siesta Key.

The county is considering two options. The first is to reduce the swimming zone on the beach’s shoreline by 50 to 100 feet, thereby giving enough space to allow paddleboard launching, Wisner said. Vendors could then rent paddleboards to beachgoers on the public beach.

The second option is a vendor could rent paddleboards at non-lifeguarded beach access areas. Currently, people contact paddleboard rental companies, meet them at the beach access point and receive their boards, Wisner said.

The county held a public meeting Tuesday to inform the public about its ideas and to receive feedback.

“It’s a great sport, but the issue is doing it at lifeguarded beaches,” said Michael Shay, president of the Siesta Key Association.

Shay said he is not in favor of allowing paddleboards to be rented at the busy lifeguarded beaches because paddleboarders could potentially come in contact with swimmers.

If paddleboarders go beyond the swim zone in the Gulf, then they are at risk of encountering watercrafts such as Jet Skis, parasails and boats. Inexperienced paddleboarders might have a problem handling boat wakes, too.

“There are plenty of places to stand-up paddleboard,” Shay said.

Scott Montgomery, Sarasota County lifeguard manager, said the lifeguarding division would prefer not to allow paddleboarding near the swim zone because of the safety concern.

If a paddleboarder was not wearing a leash to the board and fell off, the board could fly out from under him and hit someone, he said.

Alfieri said there are ways to reduce the risks involved in paddleboarding. Some boards are made with soft tops and sides, and others are inflatable, therefore reducing the chance of injury should someone fall off or get hit with a board.

Alfieri said some people are already paddleboarding near the swim zone. The proposal would allow the county to regulate people’s actions.

Alfieri said the rental company at the Siesta Key Beach should provide supervision and training for renters. By providing training, safety instruction and guided tours, renters would reduce the risks of injury while providing a good experience to customers.

“It’s not just good business for the SUP vendor; it’s good promotion for Sarasota,” Alfieri said.

The Gulf draws paddleboarders because of the experience of being able to see in the open water and get a firsthand look at marine life, as well for the exercise, Alfieri said.

“It’s like yoga, meditation, going to the gym and going to the zoo all at one time,” he said.

The second public meeting will be held from 4 to 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, Aug. 12, at the Nokomis County Center, 234 E. Nippino Trail, Nokomis.


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