Once a secret spot, sound access hits critical mass

By on June 18, 2012

A kite boarder off the Jockey's Ridge access earlier this year.

The Jockey’s Ridge State Park bathing area may have once been a little secret among the locals, but that no longer appears to be the case.

“The secret is out,” said Park Superintendent Debo Cox of the Roanoke Sound access off Soundside Road in Nags Head.

Because of the shallow water, lack of wave action and mild current, the bathing area is a popular place for families with small children. In recent years, it has also become a prime launching spot for kiteboarders.

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Nags Head leases the access from the state and is responsible for maintaining the walkway and grass as well as picking up the trash. Park rangers open and close the gate.

While Cox said kiteboarders have done a good job policing themselves, its popularity among both groups of users has resulted in critical mass and has punctuated the need for similar accesses.

A recent complaint brought to town officials sparked concern that the dual uses don’t mix.

Cox says the two groups have been getting along fine for the past 10 years or so. But the number of users has increased significantly, he said.

“We’ve had millions of bathers and thousands of kiteboarders there over the last seven or eight years and have had zero documented incidents in which someone was hurt because of a conflict between the two uses,” Cox said.

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The superintendent also said there is a designated launch area for kiteboarders on the north end of the beach. They are also required to stay 100 feet away from bathers.

The state park can issue a citation if those rules are not followed. However, the park only has jurisdiction over what happens on the beach, Cox added. Its jurisdiction ends at the water.

The superintendent said he has had great success working with kiteboarders on keeping the access safe for both groups.

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“And they have responded well,” he said. “We have asked them to police themselves and they have and they have spread the word through the kiteboarding community.”

Nags Head commissioners discussed the access at a recent meeting and the possibility of placing buoys to separate kite surfers from bathers, similar to what the town does to keep surfers from getting too close to piers.

The area is particularly popular for families with small children on days of northeast winds when the ocean surf is rough and the risk of rip currents is higher. Town manager Cliff Ogburn said, however, that even on calm days parking can overflow onto the adjacent residential street.

Police Chief Kevin Brinkley told commissioners that a nearby resident had asked about no-parking signs.

Nags Head Commissioner Renee Cahoon said later that the town will continue to monitor the situation and open a dialogue between the two groups if need be.

“We want to take a soft approach,” added Cahoon, who said a key component would be education.
“We need to educate the kiteboarders and educate the children so that they do not go near the kiteboarders.”

Kiteboarding has grown in popularity along the Outer Banks in the past 10 years. Riders use a board similar to a wake board and a large controllable kite to harness the wind and propel the rider and the board across the water.

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