SM BEACH — Giving surf lessons are fun until someone gets punched in the face.

Two years ago, tensions were high between the 14 surf camps crammed onto the one mile stretch of beach south of the Santa Monica Pier. Some altercations even escalated to fist fighting.

Last year, City Hall cut the number of surf camps from 14 to four by issuing a limited number of permits hoping to ease the tension. For this up coming summer, the city plans to limit surf camps even further.

The city isn’t trying to hinder anybody’s lively hood, just make things more civil, Callie Hurd, City Hall’s open space manager said.

“I’m trying to stop people from getting in fist fights on the beach from the over commercialization of resources,” Hurd said.

This summer, there will be only two permitted surf camps in Santa Monica. One south of the pier at lifeguard tower 28 and one north of the pier at tower 6.

These coveted permits are still under review and should be issued soon, Hurd said.

<!– LPSH –>Regulating the gnarlyness

Although there are less surf camps on the beach, people still can get lessons easily, Hurd said.

“Some people were doing very low amounts of business on the beach,” Hurd said. “Hence the high amount of tension.”

After the first round of permitting there wasn’t much uproar from camp owners that couldn’t operate under the new laws. Two years ago, Santa Monica’s relaxed surf permitting laws attracted operators from all over Southern California, Hurd said.

“Everyone seemed to acknowledge that there was a need to cut back on the activity out there,” Hurd said.

In 2007, there was a proliferation of camps with 19 or less students when the city said a camp had to include 20 or more students.

“We were inundated with bogus camps,” Mary Setterholm owner of Surf Academy, said. “These people where driving a truck through a moral loophole.”

Now some surf camp operators are frustrated over increased regulation from the 2008 statutes.

“It’s an injustice to the citizens of Santa Monica,” Allen King, owner of Aqua Surf School, said. “It causes undue hardship to Santa Monica business owners who have been doing this for five plus years.”

The new permitting process is unfair because it creates a monopoly on the surf lesson market in Santa Monica, King said. It’s the consensus that Setterholm will get the permit to operate south of the pier, King said. That leaves one permit for everyone else to compete for, he said.

Setterholm said she gets a permit every year because of her surf camp ethos.

“[Surf camp] should be more like a social service,” Setterholm said. “I take every kid that can’t afford it and take them in.”

<!– LPSH –>Who gets the permits?

The permits are now granted by a three person awards board. Two members are involved with similar recreational programs and the third is a city maintenance administrator.

The awards board will give permits to the most affordable, safest, experienced, surf camp that’s verified through references, Hurd said. To be eligible for a permit, an operator must have five years of managing a surf camp.

“I don’t know what the review process is … As far as being fair and equitable,” Allen King, owner of Aqua Surf School, said.

The camp south of the pier will be part of Santa Monica’s Community Programs Division.

“A government doesn’t usually staff surf instructors,” Hurd said.

Instead, the city subcontracts surf lessons to a private business that will give discounts to Santa Monica residents and people with low incomes, Hurd said.

Last year, there were two camps subcontracted through the city, but this year there will be just one.

“Groups of kids were crossing other kids [in the water],” Hurd said.

This created confusion for the lifeguards and the surf instructors, she said.

“Putting two surf camps next to each other didn’t make a lot of sense,” Setterholm said. Rather than spread them out, the city realized that Surf Academy could handle Island Surf Camp’s clientele, too.

“[Last year], we could have swallowed up Islands without batting an eye,” Setterholm said.

There are five applicants for the permit to operate the surf camp south of the pier, Hurd said.

<!– LPSH –>Annenberg dilemma

The camps north of the pier are privately owned and operated. A second permit won’t be issued at tower 4 this year because of the nearly completed Annenberg Community Beach House, Hurd said. There are also five applicants for this permit.

“It would complicate things if we put a surf camp [at tower four],” Hurd said.

The 10 to 30 cars picking up campers in the Annenberg parking lot would create traffic and confusion, she said.

“The bottom line is that Santa Monica is a swimming beach not a surfing beach,” Hurd said. “We dedicate the best beach to swimmers.”

There aren’t surf camps throughout Santa Monica because most of the beach gets blackballed, closed for surfing, by noon, Hurd said. Permits will be granted to sand camps, a beach camp without surfing, from tower 20 to 26 and from the north of the pier to tower 6.

Ten permits will also be granted to solo surf instructors teaching one to two students.

Gray areas in the new permitting laws pose some potential problems. First, local private facility The Beach Club offered surf lessons, but it’s unclear if these lessons were part of the overall membership fee or an additional charge, Hurd said.

Secondly, a teacher or a shop could rent surfboards off the beach then give a lesson free of charge with that rental. Hurd said she needs to talk to the city attorney’s office about these gray areas.

In the future, permits will last for three to five years so operators won’t have to bid every single year, Hurd said.

Creating a comprehensive and fair permitting law is never easy, Hurd said.

“I got a lot of calls from people saying do X, Y and Z,” Hurd said. “When you’re in the trenches you find out how complicated everything is.”

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