When the biggest and brightest stars in the surfing universe descend on San Francisco's Ocean Beach in early November for the Rip Curl Pro they, just like anyone else who hunts waves at the Northern California beach break, are going to have to do battle with the unforgiving paddle that has helped make the urban surf zone infamous over the years.
Thanks to a late-hour reversal of opinion announced last week by the National Park Service, competitors in this year's Rip Curl Pro Search event, will not, despite previous pledges to the contrary, have the luxury of jet-ski assistance during the contest, slated to kick off November 1.
In a formal statement sent to Rip Curl representatives, Golden Gate National Recreation Area General Superintendent Frank Dean explained, "After careful deliberation about the use of Personal Water Craft for the Rip Curl Pro Search surf contest, we must change our position on the use of PWC's to pull contestants through the waves ... Because of the ban on private use of PWC's in National Park Service waters we believe that allowing the towings would set a precedent that would undermine our enforcement elsewhere both in this park and nationwide."
Originally, contestants, despite a general Parks policy outlawing PWC's, were to be allowed jet-ski assistance when attempting to navigate the currents and close-outs of Ocean Beach if the surf was 10 feet or bigger during the event, as per an understanding between Rip Curl officials and National Parks.
This condition was originally granted under the guise of public safety, said National Park Service spokesperson George Durgerian but, after careful consideration, the contradictory exemption was something the organization couldn't live with. "It's tough," summed up Durgerian in the wake of the announcement, "We thought we could justify it [the use of PWC's] but ultimately we realized that, for competitors, it is really more a thing of convenience than it is safety ... The closer we looked at it, the more we realized we couldn't defend it -- it just didn't pass the red-faced test ... We apologize. Rip Curl has been very good to work with. We welcome the event, we are excited about the event and we hope it continues. We just couldn't defend [the PWC's]."
Bede Durbige, current ASP World No. 15, is already considering workarounds, "I have never surfed there, but a few of my mates have and they reckon the paddle-out is crazy when it's big. I'll definitely be taking some big boards seeing that there not having skis," he said.
According to Durgerian, the situation was further complicated when other groups who use the Golden Gate National Park for ocean-going events began asking about the possibility of getting their own PWC exemptions. "It would have definitely set a precedent that we just weren't comfortable with." said Durgerian. Despite the policy flip-flop, Park officials remain confident that safety will not be an issue with the contest. National Park Service lifeguards -- with Rip Curl picking up the tab -- will be on hand and equipped with a zodiac inflatable boat to respond to any would-be emergencies during the contest's 10-day waiting period," said Durgerian. "Our guys are surfers too. There is no doubt that they are experts at this site," he added.
For their part, folks from Rip Curl, who announced Ocean Beach as the site of their annual 'Search' event nearly six months ago, have yet to officially respond to the PWC decree despite requests from the media. "I can't imagine they are very happy about it." opined Durgerian.