(Sorry - long post!)
I read a post in the Australian Yahoo Group about an incident between a beginner and an expert that led to some agro, and it lead to some thoughts about safety and regulation of the sport on local beaches in Melbourne, Australia. If anyone cares, here's some random thoughts I had:
This topic has led me to post some thoughts about what's happening with our sport, particularly in Melbourne but most probably across Australia and the World. I am no expert, but am a competant kitesurfer and spend plenty of time researching safety issues on the net.
In the past six months I have seen both sides of the coin. Firstly, I only started early in 2002 and tried to keep to quiet beaches so that I wouldn't get in the way of the experts. I guess I was a bit
intimidated by them, but after having spent some time at St Kilda beach I have met plenty of good people. I am now an intermediate and have watched many worrying episodes with beginners that makes me wonder about how long we will be allowed to enjoy our sport on local beaches. These include too many beginners who have clearly not had lessons, or who have had a one hour lesson and think that's enough. They clearly are not aware that this is a dangerous sport (for themselves and for bystanders if they are near beginners), nor are they aware of the various resources on the net for learning about safety and proper technique. The number of kites crashing down on the sand is getting scary.
The problems are only going to get worse. Up until now the majority of new kitesurfers were probably ex-windsurfers who saw someone kitesurfing and switched. Now I get questioned every time I walk
from my car to the beach and more and more people are going to try kitesurfing whether we like it or not. At one day at St Kilda I
counted 35 kites in the air - how many will that be next summer, and the one after that? 50? 75?
The temptation is to shut up and stay quiet and enjoy the sport while I can, but I can't help but think that the requirement to wear PFD's (now law in Melbourne) is only the start of regulation of our sport, and what will come next will be much worse. This could include having beaches closed to us or the sport being totally banned. For this reason I think we should be more pro-active and look at all ideas on how to self-regulate the sport so that we don't have unfair regulations placed upon us.
I have some ideas, some of which may be radical or unpopular, but which may keep us on the water for much longer. Please, if you're going to criticise these ideas, make it constructive criticism and give alternatives. Please add to the list. I think it's at least worth throwing some of these ideas around even if they lead to
nothing, as sometimes the most stupid ideas lead to good ones. The ideas include:
- mandatory kite leashes
- some form of licensing requiring testing (written and practical tests, with the practical component gained through qualified instruction, or a short test if already experienced - radical, I know!)
- if not licensing, registration or compulsary membership of some group (AKSA?) so that we have a way to reach all kiteboarders to keep them aware of safety issues, etc.
- discussions with councils/governments about erecting warning signs to keep the public away from certain beaches or at least warn them of the risk of standing directly underneath/downwind of kites. (Yes, this risks bringing this issue up with council before it may otherwise have, but if you think it won't come up later you have your head in the sand - at least if we go to them we can work together rather than them banning us before we know what happened)
- designated beginners beaches/zones
- designated beginners times at certain beaches (with coaching from the experts when they are not out on the water).
Now I do not necessarily think all of these are brilliant ideas, but in the interests of promoting some "brainstorming" on what we can do to improve our sport I have put them forward.
If you are lucky enough to live in an area where you don't think there is a risk of increasing regulation, enjoy it and keep
doing what you're doing (as long as you're not hurting anyone). This post is for those of us who are worried we might not be allowed to enjoy our sport in a couple of years, and want to do something about it now.
Finally, for those in Melbourne, is there any interest in setting up a Victorian arm of AKSA to look after local issues - beach access, etc.?