A new law requiring Hatteras Island, N.C., residents and visitors to pay to drive on the beach as well as a fresh round of beach closures were enacted Wednesday. The unprecedented measures have rattled the barrier island community, particularly surfers, who until now, had never paid to search for waves.
The new beach driving permits cost $120 per vehicle for one year or $50 per vehicle for one week. Designated pedestrian-only areas do not require beach-goers to have a permit of any kind.
Home of the Eastern Surfing Association's Easterns, several professional surfers, 16 surf shops, and multiple pro events, Hatteras Island supports a rich surfing culture, and is known as one of the most consistent locations on the East Coast.
Professional surfer Brett Barley, who grew up navigating the island's isolated, throaty barrels, resents the new restrictions. As a grom, Barley had his mom drive him on the beach to find his own wave, separate from the experienced crowds huddled at Buxton's first jetty.
"That's part of growing up around here," Barley said. "There's not anything better than surfing or hanging on the beach with a couple friends and no one else around."
One beach area now off limits to vehicles is "The Hook," a famed spot immediately south of the island's cape. With proper conditions, a long left-hand wave with sections for both barrels and carves wraps around the point into The Hook. This fickle wave appeared earlier this winter, and Barley posted this video of a smaller day session to his blog, possibly the last time the wave will ever be documented from land with vehicle assistance. To reach The Hook, pedestrians now must hike through miles of soft sand, providing the route isn't blocked by nesting enclosures.
Cyndy Holda, public affairs specialist for Outer Banks Group NPS, said the new access management plan designates 28 miles of the island's 68-mile-long seashore as open to off-road vehicles year-round, 13 additional miles as seasonally open to ORVs, and the remainder as open to pedestrians only.
The Cape Hatteras Access and Preservation Alliance, a project of the Outer Banks Preservation Association, filed a lawsuit against the National Park Service in regards to the "off road vehicle management plan and final rule."
"The NPS claims there are 28 miles open year-round for beach driving, yet they don't include the fact that the vast majority of that space is closed for resource closures like turtle and bird nests," said Jeff Golding, board member, OBPA.
Also, much of the space set aside for pedestrian-only, no vehicle, use is inaccessible or overlaps with protected nesting areas, Golding added.
While turtle nests require a 10-foot by 10-foot enclosure for a small amount of time, Piping Plover nests' require large swaths of beach for three months at a time, Holda said.
Since 2007, the National Audubon Society has pressured the NPS through legal means to decrease access. The group, which reported a total revenue of more than $84.5 million in the last fiscal year, claims its interests lie in protecting Hatteras' wildlife and environment.
"We support the NPS in its efforts to implement the new management rules at Cape Hatteras National Seashore, which include a permit system, in order to protect the seashore's natural resources while allowing for responsible ORV use," said Ida Phillips, communications director of Audubon North Carolina.
Many residents see the access restrictions as a blow to both their local economy and personal freedom, said Carol Busbey, who owns Natural Art Surf Shop in Buxton with her husband, Scott.
The shop, established in 1977, felt the impact of increased beach regulations on weekend sales last summer.
"A lot of people come here so they can surf their own spot, but now I think they'll just go somewhere else," she said. "They (NPS) want people to come here to just sit by the pool, visit the lighthouse, look at the beach, and go back to the pool."
According to a statement on the website of the Surfrider Foundation Outer Banks chapter, "It is difficult for one that has not spent significant time on the Outer Banks to consider how limited access to beaches would become without ORV use, access that is the very reason that people from all over the world come to the Outer Banks to visit."
The changes set in place today fundamentally alter the surf culture of Hatteras Island.