Why Surfing Was Inexplicably Banned in the Hamptons Last Weekend

Local cops decided to dust off a 40-year-old law. Not everyone was thrilled.

Surfing Ban in the Hamptons
(Credit: Wikimedia Commons)

If Footloose ever had a surfing sequel, it’d look something like this past weekend in Southampton, NY. Without any warning, the Southampton Police Department began calling surfers out of the water on Saturday morning, claiming surfing was banned in the area for the rest of the summer, and that anyone who violated the law would be subject to a $1,000 fine.

Believe it or not, as local surf instructor Miles Brucculeri informs us, the Southampton PD was enacting a law that’s existed for decades. “The police department decided to just reinterpret this old law from the late ’70s or early ’80s, and wouldn’t let anyone surf anywhere between 9 a.m. and 6 p.m.”

That original law, which effectively bans surfing during daytime hours from June 15th through September 15th, hails from an age when America wasn’t really considering surfing a sport quite yet. It was the Barbarian Days, pre-Momentum Generation era, when surfers were a long-haired public nuisance, and beachgoers didn’t want their favorite sunning and swimming spots co-opted by a bunch of kids with smelly vans (and smelly Vans).

It’s remarkable, though, that a 40-year-old law would be dusted off now, on a Saturday in mid-August. According to Brucculeri, “[The police] had received a lot of complaints. Too many surfers were congregating in one area, because it’s sort of the only sandbar in the village right now.”

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Last year, the village had a couple sandbars, which kept Southampton’s surf scene from becoming a total zoo. A good sandbar changes the way a wave breaks (for the better), and this summer, everyone’s been angling for the same sandbar. That means the surf is crowded, and the swimmers are afraid of getting run over. This all comes on top of tension from an ever-growing supply of surf schools in the area, instructors running unsanctioned private lessons, and the generally absurd popularity of the Hamptons.

That said, it all blew over pretty quickly.

“They shut it down for the morning, but I think by the afternoon the Trustees and Mayor [Jesse Warner] had gotten rid of it and called off the dogs. Now they’re planning to repeal that ban. It only affected the town for a day.”

Brucculeri says a situation similar to this cropped up 20 years ago. This time around, nobody even notified the legislator; apparently someone in the police department just made the call to enforce the ban.

Moving forward, the sandbar migrating 200 meters down the coast — a definitive possibility — will help. But institutionally, the village is planning on repealing the outdated law, and drawing up clearer policies on what’s allowed. As it stands now, even boogie boards and stand-up paddleboards can technically be outlawed by the decades-old legislation.

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