Stephen Codrington wants the Vancouver park board to set his people free this summer. The 42-year-old father of three is passionate about kitesurfing — a water sport that combines elements of windsurfing, wakeboarding and paragliding by harnessing the power of the wind using a large, inflatable kite — and he wants Vancouver to join other cities such as Toronto, Kingston, Chicago and San Francisco in allowing it beach access.
Kitesurfing, also known as kiteboarding, is soaring in popularity, although participants who launch from Spanish Banks — which generally sees the most favourable wind conditions to access English Bay — are violating a park board bylaw that states: “No person shall use, carry or possess a surfboard, windsurfer, canoe or boat in a park or on a beach save in such areas as designated by the General Manager.”
The bylaw is rarely enforced except when lifeguards are on duty during the summer and prevent kitesurfers from hitting the water.
“The spot we have in mind is the westernmost part of the beach because it has a little thing that sticks out and we figure there are some natural barriers there to help say ‘this is the zone,’” said Codrington of a location to the northeast of the concession stand in West Point Grey. He added that kitesurfers rarely want to access English Bay during the summer months because wind conditions generally aren’t as good at that time of year compared to other nearby hot spots off Squamish and White Rock. “If you look at the actual wind statistics for the summer months when the lifeguards are there, it isn’t common to have good wind but it is so special when it happens and it is such a shame to miss,” he added. “Kitesurfing is a wonderful sport but the conditions that it needs, you either have a fair window [of opportunity] or you don’t. It’s not like you’re just floating in the water holding a piece of string waiting for the wind to pick up.”
Vision Vancouver park board chair Sarah Blyth said creating a special launch zone for kitesurfing is worth looking into, especially since kitesurfers are unable to access the water the same way windsurfers and dinghy sailors do via the Jericho Sailing Centre.
“We would be open to discussions on it,” said Blyth. “Sometimes the only way you know that a bylaw is outdated is when you start hearing that it is affecting people in a negative way. They made a good point that when it is really, really windy out and they are at their happiest, not as many people are going to the beach anyway.”
Codrington likens the situation to the days when snowboarding wasn’t allowed on ski hills. “The difference is that nothing changed with snowboarding except with people’s attitudes. What has changed with kitesurfing is the gear, because this truly was an extreme sport in the ’90s, but now it is much, much safer and easier to do.”
The Squamish Windsports Society has sent a formal proposal to the board asking permission to use the spot that has also been endorsed by both the Royal Vancouver Yacht Club and the B.C. Sailing Association. Shaun Healy, the supervisor of aquatics and the city’s head lifeguard, was not permitted to speak to the Courier because the proposal has yet to be officially included on a park board agenda.
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