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In Harm’s Way : Newport Beach May Keep Jet Skiers at a Safe Distance

<i> Times Staff Writer</i>

When Teri Nelson goes swimming near Newport Pier, she doesn’t want any jet skiers around.

“It’s just too dangerous,” Nelson said, basking in the sun recently while her two children played in the sand.

Nelson, 33, who often swims near the pier during the summer, is all for a proposal drafted by Newport Beach officials to keep Jet Skis and motorized surfboards away from swimmers and surfers.

But her sentiment isn’t shared by Brent Barnes, 42, the owner of Costa Mesa-based Jet Sports. He said moving Jet Skis and motorized boards well beyond the breaking waves will take much of the excitement out of the sport.

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“To be restricted out of the surf line wouldn’t be too much fun,” said Barnes, whose company sells motorized surfboards. “The thing is, once you become proficient at this thing, it becomes really dull to ride in flat water.”

Under the proposal, jet skiers would have to launch their craft from a designated area in Newport Harbor and stay 100 feet from bathers and 200 feet from any beach frequented by bathers, said Capt. Ron Johnson of Newport Beach’s Marine Department. The rules would cover a 6 1/2-mile stretch from the Santa Ana River jetty to Corona del Mar.

The restrictions, which require City Council approval, would apply between 10 a.m. and 5 p.m. from May 1 through Sept. 30, Johnson said.

The penalty for violating the rules has not been determined, said David Harshbarger, director of Newport Beach’s Marine Department.

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The Parks, Beaches and Recreation Commission approved the regulation 2 weeks ago in response to a public outcry about Jet Skis, Johnson said. City officials said they aren’t aware of any accidents involving Jet Skis in area waters.

But, Johnson said, “there are complaints all the time by surfers, swimmers, bathers, boogie boarders and fishermen on the piers.”

The proposed restrictions are similar to those that keep surfers away from bathers in some Newport Beach waters during the summer, Johnson said. Seal Beach and Laguna Beach have similar restrictions.

The Newport Beach City Council will probably consider the issue this month, City Atty. Bob Burnham said.

‘Very Dangerous’

Councilwoman Evelyn R. Hart said she is “leaning toward limiting the Jet Skis. I think motor-powered vehicles are very dangerous. . . . We’ve even had accidents with surfboards, so you can imagine what it would be like with Jet Skis for swimmers.”

Catherine Martin, spokeswoman for Irvine-based Kawasaki Motors Corp. USA, as well as the International Jet Ski Boating Assn., said she plans to urge the council to consider a designated area near the beach for the motorized craft, “or at the very least, (permission to) launch from the beach to the ocean.”

Martin said that Daytona Beach, Fla., has such a designated area and the system has worked well. Newport Beach officials “are trying to keep an accident from happening, and we fully support that,” she said.

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Personal Watercraft

Kawasaki Motors is the distributor of the Jet Ski. In the industry, the devices are referred to as “personal watercraft.”

Martin said the Personal Watercraft Industry Assn. estimates that about 150,000 have been sold in the United States in the last 12 years. She said that about 900 of her firm’s vehicles are owned in Newport Beach, Corona del Mar and Costa Mesa.

T.K. Brimer, 40, a surfer who owns a Newport Beach surf shop, doesn’t want to see any of them near the pounding waves.

“The two sports don’t interact well together,” Brimer said. About 6 weeks ago, he said, he saw a surfer attack a jet skier because the latter had been riding too close to surfers.

“I’m amazed somebody has not been seriously hurt yet,” Brimer said. “Somebody is going to be killed if nothing’s done about it soon.”

And not all Jet Ski enthusiasts oppose the restrictions. Dennis O’Leary, 30, a jet skier, agrees that Jet Skis and surfboards don’t mix.

“I just stay away from the surfers,” he said, adding that he does not ride at all during the summer. “Usually there’s a lot of people, and if you lose your Jet Ski, you can kill somebody.”

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SURF POWER

Jet Skis

3 to 5 feet long

Weigh between 230 and 270 pounds.

Motor attached to the fiberglass body.

Top speeds range between 30 and 40 m.p.h.

Maneuvered with a steering column and handle.

Motorized surfboards

Weigh about 110 pounds.

Powered by an engine attached to the rear.

Up to 30 m.p.h.

Maneuvered by weight distribution, not a steering mechanism.


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