Surfer Dudes Unite

Miami's newly politicized windsurfers pressure city hall to reopen Virginia Key beach

"Windsurfers are a very tight-knit group, very passionate about their activity," says James, the Windsurfing editor, explaining why attendees of the March 12 meeting were ripe for politicization. "Windsurfers, as opposed to regular surfers, say, are better educated, maybe ten years older on the average, and have a higher household income. It's sort of like the snow-skiing crowd."

What the newly selected board members didn't mention to members of the S.F.B.S.A. was that, behind the scenes, they had interceded with Nancy Lee and persuaded her to withdraw her formal complaint against the city. Leaders of the increasingly focused windsurfing bloc realized that civil disobedience, public protest, and media manipulation were now behind them. It was time to rein in renegade members and present a united front. The day of the lawyers was at hand, the endgame.

A second meeting with Miami city attorneys ensued, quietly, the day after the Bayside Hut summit. DeFabio: "It was extremely positive. We discussed the liability aspects very narrowly, and made them understand that there wasn't a problem, because of past Florida case law and various U.S. Supreme Court decisions about people who drown in unguarded water. We satisfied them that they would have zero legal exposure as long as they post signs saying 'Swim at your own risk.' They acted convinced. I think we're on the fast track now."

Or so he hopes. Jones, the city attorney, was due to issue a formal legal opinion this past week, but hadn't done so by Friday. He didn't return phone calls seeking comment. Mayor Carollo did call, promising to meet with Jones this week. "Do I want Virginia Key open? You better believe it," says Carollo. "It gives Miami a major recreation area, and it gives us the prestige of having one of the top ten windsurfing locations in the country. We will do everything humanly possible to see that it happens soon. If the city attorney will give us a legal opinion that lifts all liability from the city's shoulders, I certainly would be happy to see the windsurfers back out there at Virginia Key, as long as it's not going to cost the city dollars we don't have."

Until city commissioners approve the idea of giving limited launch access to nonmotorized craft, the windsurfers must continue dodging handcuffs. Some in the rank and file fear they will be double-crossed by the stiff suits at city hall. The city, they fear, is dangling the promise of a reopened beach to lull them away from a separate but related issue: Miami's planned rezoning of portions of Virginia Key for commercial development.

But if such was the nefarious intent of bureaucrats, the scheme backfired last Wednesday when dozens of windsurfers showed up once again at city hall, this time to protest the rezoning. Miami's planning and advisory board lacked a quorum and so was unable to vote on the Virginia Key rezoning question. Jack Luft, Miami's planning director, stayed behind to tell windsurfers and others in the audience that the rezoning is little more than a technicality auguring no ill for windsurfers and other nature lovers.

The surfer dudes, newly attuned to the tricky currents of local politics, say they'll be sure to keep watching.

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