Hollywood Beach Now Offers More Room For Stand Up Paddling, But Some Say It's Still Not Enough
Conservation activist Catherine Uden likes to start the day on her stand up paddle board to catch the sunrise on the ocean.
"A lot of people get up and go to the gym in the morning," Uden said. "This is my gym. I see manta rays, manatees, dolphins, I mean you name it out there, I get to connect with nature. There's something about being on the water that is just so amazing and relaxing."
A former Broward County Public Schools teacher, Uden is now a campaign organizer for the ocean conservation nonprofit Oceana, and volunteers with the Broward County chapter of the Surfrider Foundation. She's lived in Hollywood for 16 years, and has been stand up paddling for almost 10. Now she's an activist leading the fight for fewer restrictions on the sport.
Uden, along with other fans of the sport from Surfrider, recently convinced the City of Hollywood to let paddlers have more space to roam in the ocean with their boards. The city is in the middle of testing out a six-month pilot program. Uden believes it's a start - but also that the city should relax the rules even further.
"Although it is better than what we had, it's definitely still very restrictive," she said.
Hollywood's pilot program creates new zones and places to launch and increases the amount of time that stand up paddlers can be in the water. The new rules also let them stay closer to shore, instead of having to paddle out at least 300 feet in the same water space as boats.
Stand up paddlers like Uden can now be anywhere in the water as long as it's before 10 a.m. or after 6 p.m. In between those hours, they have to use one of three launch zones.
From afar, stand up paddling can look simple. But paddlers run the risk of going down or hitting somebody with the paddle, which can create problems when sharing spaces with swimmers.
For this reason, and because of how far stand up paddlers sometimes get from the shoreline, the U.S. Coast Guard considers the paddle boards vessels, or personal watercrafts, in most situations - just like kayaks or canoes. Hollywood's new program still keeps water sports separated from swimmers.
"Basically, that's what we're looking for - safety for everyone involved," Hollywood's Marine Safety Chief Bruce Wilkie said. "We did a really extensive survey of Broward and Dade County beaches."
Wilkie said the idea to create recreation areas open to multiple watersports came from a similar model used on the north end of Fort Lauderdale Beach. He also said the trial expands what used to be areas just for surfing.
"We've converted them into recreation areas, so whereas we used to have maybe total about 750 yards of shoreline that were surfing zones, now we have almost 1.3 miles [for] the launching of kayaks, canoes, stand up paddle boards, and where surfing is allowed," he said.
Before the pilot program was adopted in March, the rules were confusing for locals like Uden and the roughly seven million people that visit Hollywood Beach every year.
The new recreation zones used to be smaller and designated for surfing. Stand up paddlers could be considered either surfers or boaters, depending on where they were in the water. Paddlers could only launch paddle boards from three restricted areas of the ocean off of Hollywood Beach; only two were really accessible. And Uden said they sometimes felt unsafe in the early hours of the morning.
She was even issued a $50 ticket last December for paddling outside of the zone where paddle boards were allowed. She's still fighting it.
"As soon as I pulled up on the shore to leave, police were there, two lifeguards were there. There was nobody else on the beach," she said. "If this pilot program was in place I never would have had these issues."
She was already asking the city to give more space to stand up paddlers then, but the citation made her even more passionate about changing the rules.
"The ticket says 'landing a boat' and I do not own a boat it's very vague," Uden said. "I started really looking at these ordinances, like what are the beach ordinances? Why are we being so crazy about this?"
The city is spending close to $73,000 on the pilot program. That includes buoys, signs and new equipment for rescue teams.
Uden says it's progress, but she believes the trial still over-complicates the designated areas that stand up paddlers are allowed in.
Right now there are five areas to consider: three launching channels and two recreation zones. Uden hopes the city will consider compromising on three zones in total in the future, with stand up paddling allowed north and south of the main drag of the beach, but not in between.
"It would still give us a little bit of Boardwalk on either side to be able to be in the main area and feel visible and safe, but it would still block off your busiest areas," she said.
City officials will decide later in the year if they want to keep or change the new map for water activities on Hollywood Beach.
Uden hopes more changes are on the way.
"I travel and pretty much bring my boards everywhere," Uden said. "I've never had this strict, harsh paranoia about stand up paddling as I've had here."
Watch Catherine Uden's encounters with manta rays and plastic while stand up paddling in Hollywood.