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City opens surfing beach for wave riders in Rockaways

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With music from the Beach Boys blasting, city Parks and Recreation Commissioner Adrian Benepe reacted to the designation by using surfer slang to welcome the adventurous to the rolling sands and sometimes towering waves of Rockaway."This is a great day to say 'Cowabunga!'" he said during the breezy afternoon ceremony at Beach 91st Street and Shore Front Parkway.The "surfing only" designation, which is the first in the city, applies to a strip of Rockaway Beach between 87th and 91st streets. Surfers were threatened with fines by the city if they surfed without a lifeguard at the beach. The state health codes required lifeguards to be on duty for any beach activity in which a person was submerged in water, such as swimming or bathing. The city's interpretation of the codes was that surfing was included in bathing and therefore lifeguards would be needed for surfing to take place. The codes, which date back to 1850, were altered about four months ago and signs will go up soon to indicate that bathing will no longer be allowed on the surfing strip, according to City Councilman Joseph Addabbo (D-Howard Beach), who was instrumental in changing the laws. As part of the changes, the codes now say that lifeguards are not needed if a beach activity involves a flotation device. The city now understands that a surfboard can be used as such a device, an official close to the initiative said."We realized that the city and the state were interpreting the rules differently," said state Assemblywoman Audrey Pheffer (D-Rockaway Beach), who was also a part of the effort. "You (no longer) have to surf with one eye on the water and one eye on someone looking to give you a summons. Surfing is not a crime," Benepe told the surfers who attended the ceremony.Addabbo thanked the surfers for asking him and other elected officials for their help in changing the laws."The elected officials listened and got this done," he said."It was an amazing process to be a part of," said Joel Banslaben, chairman of the Surfrider Foundation of New York City.Banslaben, an avid surfer, said he was never ticketed for surfing at the beach but several people were fined in 2003, the same year that several Rockaway drownings occurred. That is when his effort to change the laws materialized, knowing that it would take two or three years for the process to be completed. During this period, he said there was a moratorium on police activity at the beach. He pointed out that on any given day, hundreds of surfers from Hawaii, California, South Africa, and Japan flock to the Rockaways to catch waves."It's really a big victory for the Rockaway community," he said.Reach reporter Howard Koplowitz by e-mail at news@timesledger.com or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 156.

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