As a local paddle boarder I have seen the sport start to take off in our area. SUP Englewood started offering affordable tours locally to encourage the public to choose instruction. Guided experiences are always recommended for beginner paddlers. Standing up on the board is the easy part, it is learning how to steer the board that’s a little bit more difficult. Once standing, your body is a sail and the lighter you are the harder it is to navigate in the wind. Tips and tricks go a long way when learning how to paddle. Sharing knowledge of paddle boarding helps to keep the public safe. Knowing the basics in a watersport ensures a great time for everyone enjoying the sport and the beach.
Paddle boarding is an unregulated watersport, however there are a few local and federal laws regarding boards. For example the U.S. Coast Guard has declared paddle boards vessels which requires paddlers to have a life vest on the board.
Currently Sarasota County bans the use of paddle boards in the swim/surf areas of the public beach. This includes the use of personal paddle boards. Lifeguards on duty are responsible for the enforcement of this rule. The county is considering opening up a portion of the swim zone to the public for use of launching paddle boards. The county is also asking for the public to provide opinions on whether or not paddleboard vendors should be allowed to rent boards on Sarasota County Beaches. This could include Manasota Beach, as well as Blind Pass Beach in Englewood.
All beach patrons should consider the following issues regarding this request from Sarasota County. First of all there are two separate issues being discussed. The use of paddle boards in the swim/surf area of the public beaches. The current rule does not ban paddle boards from the beach. It does limit their use of space and interaction with other beach patrons. This means that a paddle boarder has to walk their board out of the swim area to launch and stay out of the buoys when paddling the coastline of the beach. Well this may be an inconvenience for paddlers, there’s no law requiring leashes to be worn. A leash is an ankle strap that keeps the board within several feet of the paddler. Beach patrons are at risk of an inexperienced paddler falling off of their board, and having it crash into beach patrons or the shoreline.
Allowing paddle board rentals by beach vendors is a separate issue that Sarasota County is proposing to the public. There are several issues here, commercializing our beaches and allowing vendors in an unregulated industry. People’s safety is at risk by inexperienced paddlers. Anyone can rent paddle boards. Education in the sport keeps the paddler and beach patrons safe. Paddle boarding is an amazing experience however guidance is needed for beginners. Since paddle boarding is not regulated, there are no rules for Sarasota County to rely on. There is a divide in the paddle boarding community regarding the regulation of the industry. Some companies prefer the lack of regulation. Professionals in the industry are noting serious safety concerns due to the negligence of other rental companies.
Currently SUP Englewood staff, Tracie Georgiadis and myself hold the highest levels of certifications in the area. However, in an unregulated industry anyone can open up shop. Certifications are not required. All of our staff are also certified by the American Red Cross in Lifeguarding, CPR, and First Aid.
There are several certification organizations that have developed safety guidelines for paddle boarding, such as World Paddle Association (WPA) and PaddleFit. SUP Englewood is the local PaddleFit Affiliate for the area. However, there is no rule requiring companies to follow these guidelines. The public should be aware of these important issues as it affects all beach patrons. As a local business owner I can see both sides of this issue. As a resident, local, and paddler I encourage the public to let your voice be heard. Attend the meeting and tell Sarasota County what you want to see on our local beaches.