Surfers fear loss of access to acclaimed break

By on January 3, 2012

The S-Turns at Rodanthe after Hurricane Irene. (NCDOT)

Long-term plans for the breach cut by Hurricane Irene at the north end of Rodanthe are making waves because surfers fear a bridge would cut off access to an acclaimed break.

“S-Turns is a pretty important surf break on the East Coast, definitely one of the most revered,” said Matt Walker, vice chair of the Outer Banks Chapter of the Surfrider Foundation.

Walker and other members of the foundation have started a petition, “Preserve future access to s-turns,” in an effort to ensure that surfers “continue to enjoy this resource,” he said.

The area is named for the curves in N.C. 12 heading into Mirlo Beach at the north end of Rodanthe. It is the only publicly accessible beach in the area, and when the surf is up, the shoulders are packed with cars and trucks.

Even before Irene, the spot was notorious for erosion and overwash.

Jan. 20 is the cutoff for public comment on long-term plans by the North Carolina Department of Transportation to deal with two breaches cut by the storm at the end of August. Several options are under consideration.

The breach at Rodanthe in the area known as S-Turns or S-Curves was filled in after the storm, while a temporary bridge was built over another one farther north in the Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge.

Highway planners have already said that beach nourishment at the two spots would not be possible. They have said they favor a permanent bridge parallel to the temporary one at Pea Island.

Eliminating beach nourishment at the Rodanthe breach area leaves only the options of building a bridge in the existing right-of-way or one that loops over the Pamlico Sound and bypasses the area altogether, cutting off direct access to the surf break.

Those interested in learning about the options or offering comments can attend an informal public workshop from 5 to 7 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 5, at the Ocracoke Community Center. NCDOT representatives will be available to answer questions and explain the design options.

Two previous meetings took place in December – one in Manteo and one in Rodanthe.

The Rodanthe breach was filled in. (NCDOT)

Input from local residents is important, said Dara Demi, lead communications officer for NCDOT. Many of the people involved in developing the project are Raleigh-based, and “they are very familiar with the Outer Banks but don’t live there,” Demi said.

“We want to hear from those folks who drive N.C. 12 every day for jobs, education (and) entertainment.”

Demi said NCDOT is accepting questions questions via Twitter from those who cannot attend the meeting.

Walker hopes to get as many people on the record as possible, saying access to S-Turns should be an important consideration as plans for that section of N.C. 12 get underway.

“Before you start breaking ground, consider this,” Walker said. “S-Turns is the spot you see people piled up on the side of the road.”

The impending long-term solution to that section of roadway provides an opportunity to solve both problems, he said, explaining that to him, an ideal solution for parking would be permeable surface because it is more environmentally friendly.

“The bulk of people going to Rodanthe between Labor Day and Memorial Day is surfers,” Walker said, and whether the solution is a spot created under the bridge, spaces in Rodanthe or something else, he hopes that the issue will be addressed.

The county owns land farther south near the water plant in Rodanthe. It has until 2014 to use a state grant to build a public beach access there, County Manager Bobby Outten said Tuesday. Public access in Rodanthe, Waves and Salvo is limited by private property. The access would provide parking and other amenities.

Surfer magazine named S-Turns one of the 100 Best Waves in the World, and multiple comments left by those who signed the petition noted that the spot is the “main reason” if not “the reason” for visiting the Outer Banks.

As of this week, 205 petition signatures have come from all over the East Coast, as well as from other states and even other countries.

According to the U.S. Surf Economics Report, surfers spend an average of $66 per visit to the coast, Walker pointed out; so keeping the surfers coming will also help keep the Rodanthe economy alive.

“When they wanted to move the lighthouse, they made sure the people who wanted to visit the lighthouse had a place to park,” Walker said, pointing out that when access to the S-Turns is changed, he thinks parking should similarly be taken into consideration.

To see the petition, click to
To see all four original options for the breaches, click to
For more information or to share your opinion with NCDOT, click to


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Roy Cobb

August 12, 2013 8:33 am

Surfers are a huge benefit to the economy in Dare County. Rental home money goes to mostly out of the area and out of state owners. Surfers stay here, eat here and buy gas just like everyone else.

Queen Trick

January 7, 2012 6:13 pm

Well I’m not a surfer but knowing quite a few and sports fishermen all enjoy the s turns many many years There should be a good remedy for all and regards to crap in the showers that is such a bunch of crap as for I’ve seen alot of the so called campers and some of the cottages in which the same has happened they were not the surfers

Happy Barracuda

January 7, 2012 11:53 am

obxlocal4life makes some good points.
Beach access in all of the Hatteras Island villages are reserved for ‘Rental Machine’ renters. You must pay to play. No Trespassing and Vehicles Towed signs on every street and walkway. There is a reason for this. Some beach-goers(they don’t have to be surfers)are prone to trash and abuse everything in their path. It is just their nature.

Cellphone addicted surfers have made the problem even worst by reporting to their peers that they are missing the swell and they better quickly get to that location. This is also done by recreational fishermen too.

Due to internet swell forecasting very few surfers just come to Hatteras Island hoping for some rideable surf. Most arrive in caravans of vehicles when the swell and conditions are predicted to be good and are then gone that evening.

There’s an old joke here how surfers come to HI for the week with one 5 dollar bill and one pair of underwear, and they never change either one of them.

No need for anyone to brag on how much money they spend here.

Let’s start talking about the increasing numbers of Kitesurfers and the problems they cause. Oh, can’t do that, they are suppose to have lots of money to spend.


January 7, 2012 1:03 am

parking has been a problem here for years. We have been systematically been banned from easy parking in places that are not used by anyone else. All of the houses are rentals in that area and we are banned from parking across the street because tourist that don’t surf don’t like it? Surfers make a good portion of hatteras island’s economy. They have already ruined the fishing economy because of the birds. What’s left? Whats next? please let us park in reasonable places. I don’t mean at an access 2 miles from any good break. And the excuse “you cant because it’s posted” just isn’t good enough. Be realistic open beaches,good surfing and easy parking is what makes the obx famous worldwide


January 6, 2012 5:22 pm

BBC: Surfrider did plenty of screaming on that issue as well. Please read my early response to Paul for the abridged version. Thanks.


January 6, 2012 11:06 am

Judging by the amount of agencies and special interests involved I am going to make a prediction that this whole thing will get thoroughly screwed up.

Pea Island is so small and has so many uses and resources. All these interests, be them conservation, recreation, or commercial, are all fighting for an ever shrinking resource. It’s a microcosm of future conflicts we will face concerning the use of this planet.

So far it has been an utter disappointment, but hopefully this will serve as a learning experience.


January 6, 2012 9:58 am

cape point is one of the most unique areas on the obx for surfing and fishing and beach recreation. why no uproar from surfrider when the powers that be want to close off all access to this area?


January 6, 2012 4:12 am

…wise words Tank…hope its not too late for us!

“Its becoming more and more evident by the day that surfers , fisherman and lovers of the beach need to come together and stick up for each other. There are those be it “budget cutters” or “environmental extremist” who take no regard for any of us when it comes time to shoving their ideology down our throats.”


January 5, 2012 10:32 pm

Preservation of one if the best east coast spots should be part of the plan. When its off season us surfers are the ones spending money up there. Obx is a very special place but if it wasn’t for surf I would never go there. I know this year alone myself and friends have been there 10 times . We spend way more than $66 each time on the island. Since irene we made it a point to spend money in rodanthe to stimulate the local economy.


January 5, 2012 8:19 pm

Surfriders seems to be evolving, but it’s the “Sins of the Fathers” that linger. Bad publicity is difficult to overcome: ask the Park Service, Coastal Federation, Audubon, SELC, DOW, Biodiversity etc, which disrespects anyone who dares not buy into the ideology. Matt, I wish Sufriders the best because I sincerely feel it and the long-term populace shares passion for the heritage and traditions of the Outer Banks.


January 5, 2012 7:45 pm

OK…let me spell it out for you Matt. The goal is to make the north end of Hatteras Island people-free. We’re talking fish and birds and plants, no people. Oh maybe for a while once the access is gone the “walk in” option will remain, and then along will come another study and eventually it will be no people. The first step, cut off the vehicular access, the way most people achieve access. And yes as a rule, the Surfriders have marched hand in hand with other National groups. I think most of them, like yourself, mean well. Unfortunately surfers are people too, and people are not part of the long term plan.

Happy Barracuda

January 5, 2012 2:51 pm

What about the houses in the shorebreak and across the Hwy.12 that have sunk into the lagoon? Are they condemned?

What about the exposed drainfields and septic tanks? Should the surfers be concerned with that pollution when surfing that area?

Or are we more worried about parking?

Stan Clough

January 5, 2012 2:34 pm

Well said Tank !!!


January 5, 2012 11:14 am

It should be considered that recreational fisherman and surfers spend money year round or nearly year round on the Outer Banks. Most are members of groups such as CCA and Surfrider and they give much more then they take. “Waterman” are becoming an endangered species. Let’s try preserving their habitat. Access to the “S Curves” should be kept and I doubt many surfers will mind a small hike. After all have you ever seen an obese surfer.

As far as the crapping in the showers. Wow what a ridiculous assumption to make. Did you poll surfers and non surfers to come up with that conclusion?

Its becoming more and more evident by the day that surfers , fisherman and lovers of the beach need to come together and stick up for each other. There are those be it “budget cutters” or “enviromental extremist” who take no regard for any of us when it comes time to shoving their ideologity down our throats.


January 5, 2012 10:56 am

PAUL: Not sure what you mean by ‘support various environmental groups’ but in regards to ORV/Pedestrian Access in Hatteras, Outer Banks Surfrider very clearly, and repeatedly urged the NPS to maintain access to as many surf spots as possible — and to perform local scientific studies on species in question in hopes of opening more access in the future — at every single public comment period both in print and at the public hearings. We also rallied HQ’s contacts to get the major surf co’s (Quik, Billabong, Volcom) to submit their own letters — which they did, despite getting flak from some other chapter members. We lobbied key local surfers (pros, shopowners, legends) make comments at the neg reg meetings to show how diverse the surfing user group is. We even submitted letters from Kelly Slater and CJ Hobgood emphasizing the role Cape Hatteras place in surfing so they’d be inclined to do so. (e.g “Don’t take or word for it, but if Tiger Woods said the Outer Banks was key to his competitive development and the culture at large, you’d listen.”) That’s in addition to blasting/forwarding a similar petition to the one we’re pushing for S-Turn to get surfer support for us to submit– and to tell them to submit individual comments. You can still say surfers didn’t do enough in Hatteras. Fine. But to imply that Surfrider — local or national — backed Audubon/SELC on the issue is simply false.


January 5, 2012 8:20 am

A whole lot of venom in these comments for what seems like a pretty logical position. Read the petition. It plainly says ‘surfers are willing to walk.’ (I walked a mile to Trestles every morning for five years.) So we’re not trying to dictate where to the cars go. We’re merely saying that that they’re going to keep coming — at a rate that dwarfs any other spot down south in a region where access is only shrinking. So, considering the existing parking is going to disappear it makes sense to find a solution while they’re re-working the entire road system and BEFORE it becomes a problem along Rodanthe’s side streets. Surfers are happy. Residents/homeowners are happy. Local businesses can keep turning a small-but-necessary buck in winter months.

As far as the ‘crapping in showers’ comments goes: please don’t use such a broad brush. Every pursuit has its bad apples, from discarded fish hooks to baseball fans bludgeoning each other into hospital beds. But if you look around this community, you’ll see some of the most respected people — restaurateurs, business owners, principals, teachers, doctors, etc. — are surfers or wave-riders of some sort. In fact, many of them moved here just to enjoy the very waves we’re discussing. They bought homes and pay taxes, too (which add up to more than $66, as well.) To deny them as user group based on dated stereotypes is either bias or ignorance.

Salvo Jimmy

January 5, 2012 8:11 am

Back in the 1980s when the Mirlo development was started many of us said it was a dumb idea because of the history of the area, including frequent overwash then and an inlet (Loggerhead) in that general area at one time.

OBX Resident

January 4, 2012 6:28 pm

Look at the aerial photo that accompanies the article. It is clear that one should not build roads, houses, or parking lots in the immediate area of S-Turns. The same powerful waves that we surf destroy all of these investments. To the other surfers out there who want to park where we have parked for decades, get out of your SUV and from your mindset of parking and jumping over the dune and expect a walk down the beach. Blacks Beach, Trestles, and the list goes on, one has to hike to. It would help control the crowd and create more of a special place.

Parking could be provided in a more stable coastal area further south of S-Turns (1/2 mile). We do not need a parking area (investment) in an area where we know it has a good chance of being destoyed. We should think long term solutions. No one has said they are taking away access, access will just be different from what we have enjoyed, we can blame mother nature for that.

Rob Beedie

January 4, 2012 5:39 pm

If there is a true open and honest desire to protect beach access on Hatteras Island than certainly the area known as S-turns could be a golden opportunity to accomplish just that very thing by working together for positive solutions.

A citizen’s advisory board should be set up immediately with a diverse committee whose goals are to protect access to this area for future generations.

The decision makers should make a public statement made in good faith that its intentions are to work with this citizen’s committee to devise a workable plan that does just that – protect access.

Workable solutions can easily be obtained if everyone is directly focused on enhancing this ‘coastal gem’ in hopes that the citizens of Hatteras, the businesses, and all visitors equally gain through proper coastal management practices.

Working closely together will preserve S-turns, guaranteed.

Otherwise it will certainly be a sad day and a historical negative change for the attractive Carolina Coast.

Listen closely to the locals and support their desires and ideas; afterall, it is their beloved coast and home.


Rob Beedie, GSN
Global Surf Network


January 4, 2012 3:44 pm

Sorry Matt and the Surfriders and others who have supported various environmental groups on issues in Dare County, you reap what you sew. You basically did this to yourselves by not having enough sense to at least listen to those who were warning about the big picture agenda. Hell of deal when all of the sudden you can see when you were once blind, eh?


January 4, 2012 2:49 pm

S-turns is one hot break for sure, but there are dozens of others all over the outer banks and they are in a constant state of change. 1st jetty used to have the best left-hander this side of the Atlantic but it’s changed over the years. I’d hate to see access to S-turns restricted. I get a buzz watching the amped out surfers racing to get to the waves no matter where they come from. I think most of them have enough sense to look both ways before they cross the road.


January 4, 2012 10:03 am

NPS (the current adminisistration) and the enviromental whackos have ordered that the island will be designated “NO FUN” and only open for birds and turtles.


January 4, 2012 9:53 am

Regarding “Surfer Magazine named S-Turns one of the 100 Best Waves in the World”

Better phrase would be:
“Surfer Magazine names Hatteras Island one of the 100 Best Waves in the World”

Beauty here is that the specific sand bar break is out there to be found…


January 4, 2012 9:46 am

The funny thing about S-Turns is that is it really that good, or is it more a case of popularity?

Surf breaks on the OBX change season to season and one spot which worked well one month could be completely different another.

For example, Ramp 30 hosted probably the best surf break of 2010, but in 2011 it was completely gone. 2009 saw a perfect set up at Coquina Beach and world class surf during the long period swell from Hurricane Bill, but in follow on years, we did not see that perfection again.

All in all, breaks change and as compared to “popularity” likely the best approach is to let it go and enjoy the OBX Surf Safari. There are new “S-Turns” to be discovered and for the visiting surfer, this is all part of the experience.

Sheila Williamson

January 4, 2012 8:46 am

Access is fine, but for years I have watched surfers and spectators park on the westside of Hwy 12 in this area, walking over the dunes at any place they choose, which destroys the integrity of the dunes. These dunes have been wiped out and rebuilt more times than we can count. So, hopefully, surfers will support a restricted parking area and designated “walk over”.


January 4, 2012 8:27 am

More importantly, if a 7 mile bridge in the sound is the option then USFWS will not allow maint. of the dunes. Why should we care?

Simple without the dunes the power lines will be exposed or will have to be moved. The cost of moving the lines has been well documented and it is the average Joe on Hatteras and Ocracoke Islands that will pay the bill through higher electricity rates.

Another issue will be the environmental assessment. Anyone who thinks there will not be issues for submerged vegetation, etc. is dreaming.

The 7 mile sound bridge is 40% of the original 17 mile sound bridge. This is a back door effort for USFWS to get what they wanted in the first place.

The only viable option is move the road west. Yes, that means fighting for the contracted right of way that was to be provided forever. And if we insist that USFWS stop interfering with natural processes (i.e. don’t repair the dikes, etc.) the progression of woody vegetation and drying out of artificial wetlands will solve the wetlands issue.

Salvo Jimmy

January 4, 2012 8:18 am

Years ago when the 17 mile bridge that would bypass Pea Island was first proposed, many of us fisherfolk along with residents raised the issue of access to Pea Island as a big concern.


NC indicated they would not likely maintain any sort of road there (even sand) if the bridge was built.

USFWS indicated they would not likely maintain any sort of paved road and would probably require that the asphalt be removed.

USFWS further indicated that individual vehicle access would likely not be allowed on any sand roads (even by 4WD) and in fact access would most likely be by something like the 4WD bus system used at Back Bay.

Happy Barracuda

January 4, 2012 7:03 am

The S-Curves/S-Turns area has a deepwater trench offshore that causes the waves to have a bit more energy. One of the one of the most powerful waves on the East Coast.

And the lemming-like hordes of surfers are also drawn there by the digital surf filmers who have made it very popular for a number of years.
Drive around the curve there at 45mph when the surf is pumping and avoid hitting an uncountable number of vehicles. Inches from Hwy.12. there are distracted amped surfers waxing up, changing, crossing the road, flinging doors open, tourists pulling over to see why there’s a crowd. It’s sometimes dangerous.

Build them a parking lot across the street around the new Mirlo lagoon using the 1000′s of tons of concrete slabs left over from Irene. Also remember that area will continue to keep eroding………….

Native son

January 4, 2012 6:48 am

Yes,by all mean leave access for surfers and other beach-goers at S-Turns.

Island Safety

January 4, 2012 4:57 am

oh baloney. The majority of visitors to Rodanthe rent cottages for their families or camp with their families. They spend a lot more than the $66 that surfers spend at Mac’s on Red Bull, chicken and gas to get back to VA. They don’t crap in the showers either. There may not even be a break at S-turns in 10 years. There is plenty of access –the end of every street. There are no dunes to cross. The county-0wned land behind the water plant is the last place that should be paved. It is protecting our WATER PLANT. If the county wants to use that land FOR THE COMMUNITY, plant grass and make it a baseball/soccer field with maybe a skate ramp and some picnic tables … something low impact on the land for our kids to do besides wait until they are old enough to drink(or know someone who is). Build a parking lot and showers etc there and you have provided free resources for the area kite businesses to monopolize the space for their lessons just as they have commandeered what used to be our safe family beach soundside at the Salvo Day Use. Their elite business should not be subsidized by our taxpayer money. For one, the county doesn’t have it.

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