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San Clemente officials look at adding lights on the pier for night surfing

Getting up before sunrise to be the first in the lineup at dawn or using the last rays of sunshine to surf in the afternoon aren’t unheard of, but now San Clemente may make it easier for surfers to also ride waves under the moon and stars.

The City Council is expected to discuss on Tuesday, Aug. 17, a proposal to add bright lights on the north side of the city’s popular pier specifically to allow for night surfing.

A perk: You wouldn’t have the daytime crowds to battle.

The idea of facilitating night surfing was first brought up in November 2020 by former Councilman Chris Hamm, who no longer serves on the council.

Last month, before council deferred a decision to this week’s meeting, Councilman Chris Duncan said the idea aligns with the town wanting to be widely known for being the home of USA Surfing and it sounded like a “really cool” idea, but he wanted more information from staff about other places around the world that have a similar concept and whether it would need to also be approved by the California Coastal Commission.

In reviewing surrounding coastal cities, there are no existing agencies that formally sanction night surfing, staffers are reporting back to the council. If night surfing does occur, they use the surrounding pier lights or surf under a full moon.

Already, the city’s beaches are open to the public from 4 a.m. to midnight.

There’s a safety factor to consider, with the staff report to the council noting lifeguards typically are off duty once the sun goes down, and if an incident did occur, there would be additional risk associated with lifeguard rescues during nighttime conditions.

“Marine safety regularly promotes swimming near a lifeguard when visiting the beach and likely the allowance of night surfing would not support this,” staffers said in their report. “Surfing at night can be dangerous to the surfer as visibility is significantly reduced, often losing awareness of nearby surroundings and markers on the shore.”

Though some surfers have been known to paddle out in the dark of night near brightly lit areas such as the Huntington Beach Pier, night surfing isn’t a particular popular pastime off Orange County waters.

The city’s staff report touches on how lights might draw marine life to the ocean’s surface. “Marine life is typically attracted to light at the water’s surface. Recent research has demonstrated that light from coastal cities has affected habitats on the seafloor by disrupting the natural biological cycles of marine life, effectively reducing the regulatory cycles that trigger sleep, food, and protection from predators.”

Also, “large marine predators, like sharks, tend to hunt at night,” the report advised.

Chris Lowe, director of the Shark Lab at Cal State Long Beach, weighed in on how bright lights on the pier could impact marine life, though he noted it’s a subject that is largely unstudied in California.

“I’m sure it will attract a lot of bait, which then may in turn attract sharks.  Light pollution is already a problem for some marine life,” he said in an email. “I would imagine that really bright lights to support night surfing will disturb a number of marine species that are sensitive to light particularly at night.”

If the council votes to move forward with the plan, adding lights for night surfing would likely require approval from the Coastal Commission and possibly further study of its impact on the pier’s surroundings.

Cost to add the lights, proposed at the east side of the pier restrooms, is estimated to be $15,000.

Source: Orange County Register

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