BOGUE BANKS —Surfers have started a petition to push Emerald Isle and other towns on Bogue Banks to repeal what they call a “discriminatory recreational water access restriction” against their sport.
The Change.org petition, posted on an Emerald Isle community Facebook page, states that Gov. Roy Cooper’s March 27 stay-at-home order “allows citizens to enjoy the outdoors and to get exercise and does not restrict access to the State’s Public Trust Waters or use of the recreational waters of the State” during the novel coronavirus pandemic.
Doug Starcke, an Emerald Isle surfer and co-owner of South Swell Surf Shop, said Wednesday the petition was launched by another Emerald Isle surfer, Eric Berger.
Mr. Starcke, who has argued against the ocean ban, which applies to non-motorized water recreation, said supporters “plan to analyze the petition to see how many of the signers are from Bogue Banks, and how many are from each town on Bogue Banks” before presenting it to officials in the towns.
As of 3:30 p.m. Wednesday, the petition, Carteret County Surf Now, had 3,250 signatures.
Mr. Starcke said the petition, launched about 7 p.m. Tuesday, was in reaction to the arrest of three surfers that day in Emerald Isle.
Town police arrested the three after an incident in which Police Chief Tony Reese said they would not leave the water after being told repeatedly to do so by officers over a period of nearly an hour.
Chief Reese said Peyton Weist, 21, of Emerald Isle; Parker Bell, 26, of Emerald Isle; and Ian Schulte, 21, of Swansboro, were cited for violating the temporary ocean prohibition against swimmers, surfers and others not on motorized vehicles. The ban is also in effect in Atlantic Beach, Indian Beach and Pine Knoll Shores.
“Both Mr. Weist and Mr. Schulte had previously been issued warnings by my officers prior to (Tuesday),” Chief Reese said in an email to the News-Times. “This was Mr. Bell’s first offense.
“I want to make it clear that the arrest of these young men was for resisting, obstructing and delaying a law enforcement officer and not for the surfing violation,” the chief added. “As a result of their actions, (U.S.) Coast Guard resources were requested and a drone had to be deployed in order to gain compliance and get these young men to exit the water. Had they complied with the numerous requests of the officers at the scene … this whole situation could have been avoided.”
Chief Reese said the town has had a good relationship with surfers and values their presence in the community.
“This is an isolated incident that I sincerely hope will not define the relationship that the police department has with the surfing community,” he wrote. “Surfers are an extraordinary group of people who are an extremely important asset to this community, our first responders and our visitors.”
He noted that surfers save countless lives on beaches each year, often without recognition, aiding first responders and helping to ensure public safety.
“I want the surfing community to know that this is not a sign of things to come, nor is it going to be the norm when double-red flags are flown in Emerald Isle,” the chief concluded.
Usually, double-red flags fly to prohibit swimming because of dangerous rip currents or other hazardous ocean conditions, but surfers are exempted from adhering to them in Emerald Isle.
Chief Reese called on surfers to sacrifice during the coronavirus restrictions and work with the town to “preserve the safety of the public and to restore our way of life.”
Double-red flags are flying now because the Bogue Banks mayors, in a teleconference April 2, prohibited anyone who is not on a motorized vehicle from entering the ocean through Thursday, April 30.
The concept, according to Emerald Isle Town Manager Matt Zapp, was to reduce the demand on first responders and discourage tourist travel to the Crystal Coast during Gov. Cooper’s stay-at-home order.
On the day of the conference, Emerald Isle Mayor Eddie Barber said the town already had one ocean rescue, on March 29.
Mr. Zapp said he received a phone call Wednesday from that person, a resident who had been kitesurfing. He said that subject clarified he was not in distress at the time of the water rescue call, but an onlooker saw him making his way to shore and dialed 911.
The surfers’ petition states there is little demand for first responders for surfers and there is more demand for response to accidents by others, such as bicyclists, joggers, skate boarders and fishermen.
Contact Brad Rich at 252-864-1532; email Brad@thenewstimes.com; or follow on Twitter @brichccnt.