Trustees Wrestle With Surf Camp Use In Water Mill

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A proposal by the Southampton Town Trustees to license a surf camp to use the public beach that separates Mecox Bay from the Atlantic Ocean drew both criticism and some support from a small group of surfers and one town official during a public hearing on Monday.

Several residents and Town Parks Department Superintendent Chris Bean told the Trustees that they should abandon the idea of issuing a license to a single surf camp to use the beach. Doing so would raise the specter of excluding other residents from the area, Mr. Bean warned, and is not necessary to protect the beach from being overrun by a large surfing program like one that has raised hackles at a Southampton Village beach.

“There are 20 parking spots at [Flying Point East]—if you license a surf camp there, they’re going to feel entitled to those spots,” Mr. Bean warned. “Let’s leave it alone. If somebody moves in there and disrupts things, you call code enforcement and kick them out of there. You don’t have to rewrite laws to do that.”

The Trustees have proposed issuing a license to a single surf camp to use the Mecox Bay beach. The license would allow the Trustees to set strict parameters for the use of the area by a surf camp, according to Trustee Fred Havemeyer, who introduced the idea and called for the public hearing to gather input from residents and users of the popular surfing and fishing area.

Hanging over the discussion of the Water Mill beach was the still burning frustration of some residents over the use of a village beach at the western end of Meadow Lane, known commonly as “the picnic area” by a large surf camp last summer.

Those who frequent the beach complained last summer that the surf camp, Flying Point Surf School, had such large numbers of students and instructors—more than 100 on some days, they have claimed—that the pre-teen surfing students essentially took over the popular beach area and crowded other surfers out of the only reliable riding waves in the village.

Mr. Havemeyer said the license he proposed was intended to ensure that should the Flying Point Surf School ever be displaced from the picnic area beach, it could not bring such a large operation to the Mecox Bay beach. When he introduced the proposal last month, he noted that another surf instruction program has used the beach at Mecox for many years to teach surfing to just a handful of young kids and has never drawn any complaints from other surfers or beachgoers. Mr. Havemeyer said he thought that there was still room for such an operation to use the area as long as it could be kept in check.

“Do they lease it as a way to protect it, to only allow a certain school to use it in a particular way?” Trustees attorney Kara Bak asked, in explaining the choice the Trustees, always loath to do anything that would reduce access to the beaches, have been wrestling with. “Or do they do nothing? Do they just let it go and see what happens?”

Ms. Bak also had to defend the Trustees against the frustrations over the picnic area, which bubbled up among the surfers present almost as soon as the name was mentioned. The Trustees’ authority at the picnic area extends only to their management of an easement for public access and does not allow them to exclude practices like the operation of the surf camp, if such practices don’t impede access of others to the beach. At Mecox, however, the Trustees own the beach itself and could issue whatever use restrictions they saw fit.

“We’re searching for a way to administer the cut for all of you to go there and surf there,” Mr. Havemeyer said, harking to a suggestion by Mr. Bean that the Trustees simply ban any and all commercial business from using their beach. “Recognizing that there was a particular camp there for many years, I want to be proactive and put some plans in place so that if this other group comes in or tries to, we have a way to tell them no.”

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