Three weeks ago, a man and his wife were sitting on the beach when a kitesurfer thumped into the back of their chairs. By all accounts, the incident was minor — no one was seriously injured, and Miami Beach Police left the scene without even bothering to take a full report.
But the October 21 accident highlighted growing tension between kitesurfers and beachgoers on the stretch of sand near 25th Street and Collins Avenue. As the area has become one of the biggest kitesurfing hot spots in recent years, some critics say the sport has created a dangerous scene that's forced locals off the beach. In response to complaints, the city installed a lifeguard stand at 26th Street last week and told kitesurfers to move farther up the shore.
"It's a safety issue," Miami Beach Ocean Rescue Chief Vincent Canosa says. "A lot of people who live in that area have been impacted with the kites and the kiteboards. It's a dangerous situation when you can't go in the water because these kiteboards are going by you."
Kiteboarders have already begun protesting the move. Amid swirling rumors of an impending ban on watersports, a group of them showed up at a Tuesday meeting of the Marine & Waterfront Protection Committee to ask for their spot at 25th Street back.
"Since we've been doing this here for a long time, I almost feel like it should be grandfathered in," says Aurelio Caloiero, who recently moved to 26th Street just to be closer to his favorite kiteboarding area. "It's an international sport, and people from all over the world know 25th Street."
For some residents, though, the city's new regulations are long overdue. Daniel, who's lived in the nearby Oceanfront Plaza Condo for more than three decades, says he and his neighbors have seen enough kiteboarding collisions over the years that some of them steer clear of the beach altogether.
"They bother everybody with their kites. They go over kids, old people," says the resident, who declined to give his last name. "They have an attitude like, 'We own the beach.'"
Alex Villamanan, another Mid-Beach resident, says he worries somebody will be seriously injured if the city continues to allow kiteboarders and sunbathers to share the beach.
If you like this story, consider signing up for our email newsletters.
SHOW ME HOW
You have successfully signed up for your selected newsletter(s) - please keep an eye on your mailbox, we're movin' in!
"When it's very windy, the kites kind of have a mind of their own," he says. "To see it's been going on for as long as it has been, and that the city has allowed them to be out there, is kind of the weird thing."
While those in the kitesurfing community say safety should be a top priority, many tell New Times they think they should have been included in discussions with the city before the lifeguard stand was erected, forcing them north to a rockier, more dangerous stretch. Francisco Escudero, a founder of the Miami Beach Kiteboarders Foundation, says the current situation could have been avoided if the city had given kitesurfers clearer expectations or alternate accommodations.
"I've been trying to advocate for the city to find better solutions," he says. "Instead of opening up proper talks, this aggravated, individual, small incident without any major injury turned into somebody well connected slapping a lifeguard tower here."
For the time being, kiteboarders can safely practice their sport at the beach at 76th Street, where swimming is prohibited. As of now, city spokeswoman Melissa Berthier says there's no official ban on kitesurfing in Miami Beach.