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Business on the Beach

Thu, 08/24/2023 - 11:06


Enforcement is not East Hampton Town government’s best feature, and a locally run business that has monopolized a portion of a popular ocean beach in Montauk is a prime example. Back in May, the town board voted to renew annual permits for several surfing instruction operations under the “gatherings and special events” section of East Hampton Town law.

The terms of the permits were simple enough. Why officials have not demanded that they be followed is difficult to understand. They included a requirement that surfing lessons be one on one only, that is, one instructor for each student. No more than five student-instructor pairs were to be allowed at any time. Both students and instructors were required to wear brightly colored rash guards to quickly identify them from the beach. Sign-up sheets were to be available on request by town police officers or Marine Patrol. Clearly stated as well, there would be no “camps,” reiterating the town board’s position that it be a low-key thing.

Elsewhere on the same beach, competing permit-holders giving surfing lessons have complied with similar restrictions, yet one has pushed the limits — made obvious by its own inadvertent admission. A banner photograph on its website shows at least 18 kids during a lesson on the beach. Click through to make a reservation, and you see just, “surf camp.”

Elsewhere on the site, you can select a la carte from a menu of private and semiprivate lessons. A tent also appears in photographs on the site; the problem is that under the town’s special permit law, tents are not allowed on beaches except where required by the Suffolk Health Department for food preparation. Racks for surfboards and wetsuits are put up, in effect, taking over and blocking the beach for other users.

Like other surf lesson choices in Montauk, this one is run by people with deep roots in the community. But this does not explain or justify why this one has been able to skirt the rules with impunity. Nor is it fair to the others, who appear to be doing the honorable thing by following the terms of their own respective agreements with the town.

It used to be that commercial activity on the beaches was considered a nonstarter and shut down by the authorities in an instant. Now, the public is not so sure of the town’s commitment to seeing that the regulations are followed. It is a slippery slope. If the town allows one business to do as it pleases on our treasured beaches, soon others will follow. The town board voted unanimously in May to approve the permits; it must now explain why it has not sought to make sure they are followed.


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