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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