Key Biscayne officials are working to control a continuing conflict between kitesurfers, kiteboarders and beach-goers, who say they create a safety hazard.
Over the past year, a dispute between the “kiters” and residents of the village began to unfold on Crandon Beach. With residents saying that those who practice the sport often make them feel unsafe, officials are working toward a plan to help them coexist.
Diego Gonçalves, a kitesurfer, thinks he and other kiters should not be considered a safety concern.
“I understand if someone may get scared,” he said. “But we know what we are doing, and accidents are very unlikely to happen.”
Kiteboarding and kitesurfing both use a kind of surfboard propelled by a large sail-like “kite” that catches the wind. Kitesurfers generally ride, while kiteboarders stick to open water.
Gonçalves said he has not seen any incidents between kiters and beach-goers.
Juliana Ramos, a resident of the village who often sunbathes on Crandon Beach, thinks officials could do more to help beach-goers feel safe.
“I know nobody is hitting anyone in the face with a board and probably nobody has ended up in the hospital,” she said. “Still, these surfers behave like they own the place, they need to be managed better.”
Ramos thinks opening a new kiting spot in Key Biscayne could give more space to beach-goers and increase safety.
“Kitesurfers can really only practice on windy days, so those specific days get more crowded,” she said. “A new site could really benefit all of us.”
Roland Samimy, chief resilience and sustainability officer of the village, is a kitesurfer himself. He is working with the Parks and Recreation Department to develop plans to ease tensions between the kitesurfers, kite-boarders and beach-goers.
“We are in the process of picking an exclusive zone for kitesurfers and developing an access path,” said Samimy.
The only site for people to learn and practice the sport in Key Biscayne is the Miami Kiteboarding school on Crandon Beach.
After COVID-19, Samimy said the village stopped fully enforcing rules for kiters, which sparked the disputes.
Samimy said kitesurfers sometimes leave their equipment at the shore or surf too close to bystanders. This can make them feel unsafe, but there have been no major incidents.
“Some kitesurfers sometimes don’t know the rules so they don’t follow the rules,” he said. “All you need is one bad apple to rot the rest.”
Safety guidelines and regulations for kiting on Crandon Beach are enforced by Miami-Dade County; kiters must register and stay in the navigation zone.
Christophe Ribot, who owns Miami Kiteboarding, said the employees’ priority is to enforce every rule and carry out safety measures.
“There was a period when kitesurfers from other sites came to do their own thing and they weren’t following the rules,” he said. “That’s when people got unsteady and conflicts started, but it has nothing to do with us.”
Ribot said he and his employees have been reinforcing the guidelines and strictly managing the kitesurfers ever since.
Beach-goers and residents of the village continue to argue, some saying kitesurfers have made them feel endangered and often fail to remain in their designated space.
Luis Lauredo, a Village Council member, said he has intervened in the past to mediate conflicts between kitesurfers and beach-goers who feel “physically threatened by speeding kitesurfers near the beach swimmers, sometimes missing them by a few feet.”
Lauredo resides in Key Colony, an apartment complex close to Crandon Beach, and said he has witnessed some near misses.
“It is a major tragedy waiting to happen,” he said.
Lauredo said there have been meetings between the kitesurfers and concerned beach-goers –along with the village manager and staff — to address the conflict. Although they are making progress, kitesurfers and their association have the responsibility to enforce rules and be self-policing.
“The village taxpayers cannot assume the costs and time of our police officers, already burdened with substantial law enforcement responsibilities, to accommodate this or any other sport,” he said.