Kayakers Versus Swimmers AT La Jolla Shores

As reported on www.signonsandiego.com

LA JOLLA – Three months ago Leslie Freedle-Boren lost a row of teeth when she was hit in the face by a kayak.

She was swimming off the Marine Room restaurant in La Jolla Shores and didn’t see it coming. The kayak hit her so hard, a titanium implant in her face was bent, and she ultimately lost five teeth, she said.

Citing the incident and an increasing number of kayakers using the beach area, San Diego lifeguards plan to post signs to ban launching and landing of kayaks. It’s the latest dispute in a high-traffic neighborhood where kayak use is already causing the city to step up regulations of rental businesses.

Long-standing city policy prohibits vessels in swim zones, but that has not been vigorously enforced or posted in the area.

The swim zone in question extends from Avenida de la Playa to Roseland Drive, or roughly from the boat launch to a private home just past the La Jolla Beach & Tennis Club and the Marine Room.

Exactly where the swim zone ends is hard to tell because Roseland Drive dead ends into the private home, and a survey hasn’t been done to determine the boundary.

Freedle-Boren said she has endured many dental procedures, including bone grafts, and expects to rack up as much as $35,000 in medical bills. She said she hopes the signs make a difference because she doesn’t want anyone else to suffer her fate.

"I’ve lost about a month. I was out of work and in doctor’s offices for the first four weeks," she said.

The swimmer-kayaker conflict comes at a time when San Diego is struggling to deal with the growth of kayak rental businesses in the shores. The boat launch at the end of Avenida de la Playa has become so crowded that the city is now requiring rental businesses to competitively bid for the right to use the facility.

In the summer, droves of visitors rent kayaks or go on guided kayak tours to explore the sea caves or check out the leopard sharks. The beach is also popular with divers and snorkelers. Freedle-Boren said she was hit by a kayak rented by a family from out of town.

"The kayaks have just taken over," she said. "It’s gotten worse and worse."

There is consensus that kayakers shouldn’t mix with swimmers in one area, but some kayakers don’t want kayaks to be completely excluded from the area in front of the Marine Room.

Jen Kleck, who teaches sea kayaking through her business, Aqua Adventures, said that area is one of the few beaches in San Diego where it’s safe for beginners to learn how to maneuver in rough waters. The curved shoreline there provides a sheltered space where waves are typically gentle.

"The local kayaking community meets there all the time and kayaks there all the time," she said.

Kleck has often used the area to teach sea kayaking skills, but recently the city sent letters to rental companies to remind them they can’t use the area.

San Diego lifeguard officials said kayakers’ growing use of the ocean off the Marine Room and the recent incident warrant strict enforcement.

"The congestion is just making it very difficult to create a balance. We have to take a by-the-books approach," lifeguard Capt. Rick Wurts said.

In a recent meeting of sea kayakers and surf kayakers, some suggested that instead of banning kayaks outright, the city should designate different time slots for kayaking and swimming so different uses don’t overlap. Such a change requires amending the city’s regulations, a potentially lengthy process, Wurts said.

Others suggested posting signs to make it clear that swimmers can use the waters outside the tennis club – protected by buoys from April through October. But an ongoing legal dispute over beach access there complicates that solution as well.

San Diego police are investigating Freedle-Boren’s accident and plan to forward the case to the District Attorney’s Office for prosecution.

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