Few areas along the entire length of Atlantic Ocean coastline have embraced the sport of skimboarding like town of Dewey Beach.
“Our town is the East Coast skimboarding capital,” said Jason Wilson, a professional skimboarder and one of the owners of Alley Oop, a Dewey Beach skimboarding shop.
The question now facing town officials is how to encourage skimboarding and the activity it brings to Dewey Beach while also allowing other people to safely enjoy the beach.
Town regulations say skimboards and surfboards cannot be used within 100 feet of bathers; the use boards is also prohibited from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. on weekends and holidays.
Marc Appelbaum, Dewey Beach town manager, said he is prepared to come to the 9 a.m., Saturday, May 10 commissioners' meeting with a proposal to establish a skimboarding area at the Chesapeake Street beach, on the north end of Dewey.
“If we do this, we'll do it for a season. If it works, great. If it doesn't we'll tweak it,” Appelbaum said. “We have a tremendous asset in that beach, and we need to utilize its benefits. If we can get more activities on the beach, that's great.”
Town commissioner Anna Legates describes herself as pro-skimboarding and has been involved in discussions between town officials and the skimboarding community.
“It's a very family-oriented activity,” she said of why she likes skimboarding. “It gives the children something to do during the day.”
She said she supports a specific skimboarding area, which she said would help lifeguards with enforcement. Under the existing rules, she said, it's pretty impossible to skim on the weekends. The proposal allows a safe place for the older kids to get together.
Dewey Beach Patrol Capt. Todd Fritchman said he and his crew will enforce whatever regulations are on the books.
“It's nothing personal,” said Fritchman of having to tell skimboarders to change locations. “Our goal is to reduce risk and liability at all times.”
Wilson said, “We get some of the best shore break, and people come from all over for that reason.”
Sometimes, he said, a few skimmers will be “sessioning a spot” only to be told to move when a swimmer enters the water within the 100-foot boundary. It's a source of irritation for skimmers, Wilson said.
“It’s like going to Vail, stepping on the slopes and then being whistled off,” he said.
Fritchman pointed out skimboarding is regulated from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. while lifeguards are on duty and from 1 a.m. to sunrise, when nobody is allowed on the beach. The rest of the day, from sunrise to 10 a.m. and from 5 p.m. to 1 a.m., the beach is unregulated, said Fritchman.
“I understand that Dewey Beach has a culture of skimboarding, and we're not against skimboarding. We just want it done within reason,” said Fritchman.
Wilson said he understands the lifeguards are only doing their jobs and that they’re concerned about safety. He asked for a little more discretion when telling skimboarders to move.
“It doesn’t always seem reasonable,” he said.
Wilson supports establishing a specific skimboarding spot in town, as long as skimboarders can continue to use the rest of the beach while observing the 100-foot rule.
“It would be nice to always have a place to skimboard, but we’re hoping there will be a combination of the two,” he said. “That would be a good approach.”
The popularity of skimboarding in Dewey is well established: Dewey kicked off 2014 with the third annual Skimboarder Drop on New Year’s Eve and two of 10 photos scrolling atop the town’s website are of skimboarders. There are two upcoming skimboarding events – the annual South Side Shootout, Saturday-Sunday, May 31-June 1, and the ZAP Amateur World Championships, Saturday-Sunday, Aug. 9-10.