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Community Viewpoint: Kayak operators speak up

By John Metzger and Mike and Sharon Luscomb

The first permits for kayak operators were issued in 1996, with the original Shores-based operator being a second-generation La Jollan whose father was a San Diego lifeguard. He followed his dream, struggling to survive during the slow winter months.

Over the years, the demand for kayak tours and rentals has grown to the point that there are now six La Jolla Shores-based permittees. San Diego is rated in the top 10 vacation destinations and kayaking at the Shores is ranked in the top five things to do while in San Diego. According to lifeguard calculations, more than 45,800 visitors find their way to the Shores beach every weekend during the summer months - kayakers are a very small percentage of that number.

The rapid growth of the industry has definitely left its mark on our community - some good and some bad. On a positive note, local restaurants, hotels and shop owners have benefitted significantly from the increased foot traffic on Avenida De La Playa and package deals with the kayak operators. Several operators donate kayak tours, rentals and other goods and services to benefit children and their families from local schools, reservations, fire victims, and numerous other nonprofit organizations on a regular basis and serve on local committees and boards.

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We are proud to be a part of the La Jolla Shores community and have the utmost respect for the residents and non-kayak business owners who have been impacted by our success. The kayak operators are in the process of forming the La Jolla Shores Kayak Association in an effort to bring “one voice” to the city and effectively address the community’s concerns as a team.

Safety has been pointed out as one of the main reasons a request for proposals is needed and used as justification for capping the number of tours/rentals recommended per permittee.

Just the facts…

La Jolla Shores Boat Launch is the only public boat launch on the ocean in the city of San Diego. All permitted kayak guides are CPR certified, BCU and “lifeguard trained” and all customers get detailed instructions and safety tips prior to launching. With one guide per five double kayaks, there is rarely an incident connected with tours. Tour guides often assist individual renters and private owners when needed to greatly enhance safety on the water.

The proposed reduction in kayak operator’s tours and rentals will not address any neighborhood, community, or safety issues or concerns. The city has told us that they will not oversee or regulate any activities east of the boat launch. The lifeguards do an amazing job with extremely limited resources.

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In order to assist them, we have proposed stationing tour guides near the swimmers areas, at the boat launch and along the kayak routes at the Caves and Slides as needed during the peak season. This would significantly improve safety for swimmers, snorkelers, and scuba divers and kayakers alike.

Looking ahead

Be careful what you ask for. The unintended consequences will make the current situation even worse. A lottery system that dictates limited, staggered times for tour launches is unrealistic. Members of the tour groups are often late due to heavy traffic and difficulty parking. Tours will be launched under less-than-optimal ocean conditions in order to accommodate the limited window an operator will have available to them. Already long waiting lists will increase causing more congestion at the boat launch, on Avenida De La Playa and in Laureate Park.

Boat caps will create an uncontrollable increase in non-permitted vendors who will provide kayaks to the general public, outside the pervue of the city and its lifeguards. It will mean more cars and trucks (which aren’t four-wheel drive) at the boat launch, dollies with kayaks on Avenida De La Playa, less safety training for the renters, and more rescues by the lifeguards.

It will also jeopardize the financial viability of long-time La Jolla Shores kayak operators with storefronts and will have a domino effect on the profitability of the other local businesses.

It is time for us to come together as a community and resolve the kayak related-issues. We are your neighbors and recognize the urgency of the situation.

John Metzger is owner of OEX; Michael and Sharon Luscomb own La Jolla Kayak.