According to news outlet El Nuevo Día, a recent bill proposed by House of Representatives President Carlos “Johnny” Méndez would give law enforcement officials the authority to fine, evict and even possibly arrest anyone going into the ocean when weather conditions are deemed to be dangerous.
The proposed legislation has not taken into account the important role that surfing plays in Puerto Rico’s tourism.
GrindTV was told by Olita founder Gerardo Lebrón that the measure has been approved this week by the House Méndez serves in, thus sending the bill to the second legislative body for discussion and a vote. If it is approved there, then a bill effectively banning surfing when the surf is biggest (and often at its best) will go to Puerto Rico’s Governor for consideration.
Much of Puerto Rico’s surf community has been in a long battle with legislators over a resort project that would engulf 121 acres of pristine Puerto Rican land and marine ecosystems, and it remains unclear if this odd surfing ban is somehow related.
We got on the phone with Puerto Rican surfing legend (and all-around nice guy) Otto Flores to get his take on the proposed surfing ban in his country.
What’s your take on this surfing ban?
I’m baffled. He [Méndez] is so distant from his reality that he has no clue what is going on right in front of him. He lives right at the seawall of Aguadilla. He’s never fathomed or considered the importance of that location. He doesn’t understand that surfing brings a lot of tourism dollars to his municipality. He doesn’t even know he’s shooting himself in the foot.
Was the surfing community asked for input on this?
No. It came such out of left field, that it makes it even more ridiculous and wrong. Surfing is a major part of tourism, especially the northwest coast. If they are to go through with it, it would be pretty impossible to enforce. They would hurt themselves more than they would hurt the surfing community.
How important is surfing to Puerto Rico?
I’ve been fortunate enough to be in contact with a lot of the guys at Surfrider. Chad Nelsen the new CEO, has published whole briefs on the surf economics of the northwest coast of Puerto Rico. It seems like Méndez doesn’t even have a clue and he is passing that on to the legislators of the country. And they are trying to pass a ban on something they have no knowledge on.
Puerto Rico is considered the Hawaii of the East Coast, lately we’ve been getting more attention. He [Méndez] didn’t reap all the benefits of the CT coming [the 2010 Rip Curl Pro Search Puerto Rico], but that event brought $2.5 million into the island in tourism. The tourism board only put a couple hundred thousand dollars toward that event.
I would have to agree with @dylangraves this image of @amoreda is one for the books love to see this wave shot from a different perspective. The Boys were ripping & having a ball out there. Couple months back we had a stretch of incredible waves here in the Island. With out a doubt mystical moments went down both in and out of the water. Just a reminder that we are fortunate to call this place home. @chachfiles #legend status, kudos for your hard work & for cruising with the Boy's . Super stoked to see @surfer_magazine step up to tell our story. Thanks @smashtyn_douglas for your words. We need to stand together to protect what brings us so much positive energy & happiness . #saveplayuela #vivaplayuela #puertoricodoesitbetter
El Nuevo Día reported that the bill was brought about due to concern over drownings. But there have only been a handful of surfers who have drowned in Puerto Rico over the last decade, correct?
If anything should happen, there should be more funding going into lifeguarding. Puerto Rico has the facility to have any type of business, induce any type of investor, give them tax exempt incentives and we should have lifeguards at the beaches.
Aguadilla should be responsible for that, not the surfers. The surfers usually aren’t the ones dying, the surfers are actually the ones saving swimmers. I myself have saved people at Rincon and people at Jobos from drowning. Usually they’re inexperienced swimmers or people that are drinking alcohol, going for a swim and don’t know the currents.
If this ban goes through, would it stop you from going out on big days?
Absolutely not. How are they going to monitor that? Is a cop going to tell me that waves are too big to surf? I’m going out there and getting barreled, I don’t care. Is the cop going to make it down the trail to where we’re surfing? Is he going to wait for me in the parking lot? ‘It was too big for you to surf, you’ve got a $250 ticket.’