Mavericks jet ski debate flares up following the death of another big wave surfer

Santa Cruz surfer Josh Loya screams down a wave face in front of two rescue craft waiting to offer assistance if needed during last year’s Maverick’s contest. (Dan Coyro/Sentinel file )
The recent drowning of legendary big wave surfer Sion Milosky at Mavericks has renewed the debate in California over whether jet skis should be allowed in the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary. NOAA currently allows jet skis during competitions and during “High Surf Warning” conditions from December through February. Most of the surfing community wants NOAA to allow skis other times when Mavs is firing. NOAA’s reluctance is probably due to a fear of setting a precedent and the potential impacts on marine birds and mammals and other ocean wildlife:

“They are blaming us for public safety issues,” said Mary Jane Schramm, spokeswoman for the Gulf of the Farallones National Marine Sanctuary, which manages the Monterey sanctuary. “It’s their choice. It’s their judgment” to be out there.

The restrictions on personal motorized watercraft were first adopted in 1994. Maria Brown, the superintendent of the Gulf of the Farallones and Monterey Bay National Marine sanctuaries, said the rules are necessary to protect marine mammals, seabirds, invertebrates and plants.  At the time the regulations were being reviewed, Brown said, even surfers voiced concern over their own safety by threats from fast-moving motorized vessels. Craft such as Jet Skis not only flush birds and scare wildlife, Brown and others said, but they could ram into marine mammals that feed on the surface near the shore. There is also pollution from the exhaust fumes.

Schramm said controlling Jet Skis is particularly important along the Peninsula coastline this time of year because there is a harbor seal rookery in that area and it is breeding season. Sea otters are also seen in the area, and gray whales are currently migrating along the coastline, which extends from Marin County to San Luis Obispo. (as reported by the Standard-Examiner here)

The Santa Crus Sentinel editorialized:

Jacob Trette’s parents [Jacob nearly drowned at Mavs in January before being rescued by a photographer on a Jet ski] joined many Maverick’s surfers in urging governmental agencies with jurisdiction over Maverick’s and other high-risk ocean areas to review regulations that currently ban personal watercraft in national marine sanctuaries, except, in this case, for the official one-day Maverick’s competition.  Still, big-wave surfing is an inherently dangerous sport and the surfers who make the difficult trek to line up at Maverick’s know what they’re getting into.

Do they expect to die doing what they love? Probably not — although mountain climbers and other extreme-sports enthusiasts have long testified to the rush that defying imminent death brings to their pursuit.

It’s amazing more people haven’t died at Maverick’s. Relaxing the federal government ban, and allowing personal watercraft to legally patrol the break, would seem to be the wisest alternative, although the known risks of riding mountains of water in spooky conditions won’t diminish.

One Response to “Mavericks jet ski debate flares up following the death of another big wave surfer”

  1. Brian says:

    Wildlife is more important than human life in CA. The marine regulations and rules are written by administrators who aren’t sportsmen or watermen. They are environmentalist types who never leave the safety of the beach. They view any kind of legal harvest as taking resources and water sports as a disruption to seals, birds, fish, etc. Large sections of the coastline are set aside for animal use only. If you dare to fish or dive then you’ll need to bring a rule book and GPS. They’re watching from the cliffs and you’re a game thief until proven innocent.

    The CA coast is amazing but the restrictions have been frustrating for someone who moved here after 10 years on the gulf coast. Banning Skis from a huge section of the coast (including Mavs) is absurd. Expecting the surfers to organize a ski patrol with permission and oversight from some govt agency is typical of CA.

    Great site! Didn’t think my first post would be a rant but I haven’t been on the water in a while and this story is proof that idiots are in charge out here.

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