Ken Garcia: Feds riding wave of illogic with Mavericks proposal 

The world knows the Peninsula for many reasons — Silicon Valley, Stanford University, the rugged, sweeping coastline. Yet as much as anything, the region has been pinned on the global map as the home to one of the world’s greatest and most dangerous surfing spots, an elusive place called Mavericks.

And as unrelentingly exciting as it is to watch waterlogged acrobats scale fast-moving 60-foot mountains, it’s just as easy for a massive bureaucracy to come up with a plan to curtail it. So when they host the annual Mavericks surfing contest in February, make sure you see it before the regulators rein it in by the leash.

Leave it to the federal government to find a solution in search of a problem, which is why waves of discontent have been lapping up against our weathered shore. After years of fits and starts, the country’s so-called "ocean experts" appear poised to embark on a plan that would severely restrict the use of Jet Skis in the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary — which happens to include that magical, monster wave-making zone known as Mavericks.

After endless debate, federal regulators this week will accept the final input on their plan to "manage" the thousands of miles of coastal waters that stretch from the Monterey Peninsula to the Farallon Islands. The idea is to come up with a way to protect the vast marine biology population in those waters — and part of it will affect the incredibly small use of Jet Skis used by surfers to reach the giant offshore waves that surface each winter.

Under the proposed plan, Jet Skis or "personal watercraft" would be allowed only on the day of Mavericks annual surf contest. Otherwise, those in search of a massive swell via motorized entry would be required to get a special use permit — an event about as likely to occur as a surfer signing up for a season’s pass to the ocean.

Marine biologists pushing the management plan talk about the great "potential" for harm to marine mammals and habitat in the local waters from the use of Jet Skis and cite as evidence studies that have been done off the coast of Florida about the impact of motorized craft on manatees. But there is only anecdotal evidence that the small cadre of big wave surfers here using Jet Skis to reach far-off zones are causing harm, especially since the newer aquatic craft are quieter and more emissions-free than ever.

Forget that surfers are probably among the most environmentally conscious people anywhere. Yet that will help explain why regulations and reason are so often oceans apart.

"It’s a completely stupid waste of breath,'' said Shawn Rhodes, longtime co-owner of NorCal Surf Shop in Pacifica and a regular at Mavericks. "People only use Jet Skis for waves that usually can't be paddled out to. I don't know anybody that surfs out here that would harm a seal or a bird or anything. It’s ridiculous that anybody would try and regulate the actions of maybe two dozen people."

The debate has pitted surfer against surfer in some cases, with a small group of old-line wave junkies objecting to the technology because it somehow takes away from the spiritual purity of the pastime. For them, anything that does not involve paddling — no matter the distance — is a violation of the unwritten code of the original longboarders.

I applaud the officials from the marine sanctuary for doing what they can to protect our precious coastline, but trying to craft laws that affect a tiny group of people is outside the bounds of any massive bureaucracy. Rachel Saunders, spokeswoman for the national marine sanctuary, told me that the proposed ban stems from the agency’s desire to bring their regulations on personal watercraft up to date. But the fact that few people knew that Mavericks even existed when the sanctuary was established in 1992 has not even been brought into the discussion.

"The original definition [on Jet Skis] is out of date and has essentially been useless for 14 years," she told me. "But we’re proposing to set up a working group with the various stakeholders to consider if and how these craft might be used at Mavericks."

They want to impose the regulations and then consider tinkering with them — kind of like the White House saying no new tax hikes and telling the public that it will deal with the trillion-dollar deficit later. So much for sound public policy.

It hasn’t seemed to dawn on marine officials that very few people purposely ride out on the ocean for miles to catch a six-story wave. It won’t stop them from adopting unnecessary regulations, but it should stop to make them think.

Ken Garcia’s column appears Tuesdays, Thursdays and weekends in The Examiner. E-mail him at kgarcia@examiner.com or call him at (415) 359-2663.

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