The Village of Southampton has licensed its first surfing school, a month after it amended a 1982 code banning businesses on its beaches.
The move, made last week, sparked fears among local residents that the village's signature public resource is being commercialized and that year-round residents are being undermined by better-heeled summer visitors whose children are among the surfing students.
Mayor Mark Epley said the town acted for safety reasons. Flying Point Surf School has been operating in violation of the town's ban for more than a decade with a handful of students, he said, but the village started receiving complaints when enrollment swelled to as many as 60 kids, seven days a week, in the past two years.
The license is good only for this summer, limits the surf camp to 20 students and restricts them to a particular area of village beach. Epley said next year the surf school license will be publicly bid, like the decades-long snack shack concession at Coopers Beach -- the only other business allowed on village beaches.
Residents at recent public meetings ticked off a litany of businesses they worry will follow -- including chaise longue and beach umbrella rentals, ice cream and hot dog trucks driving onto the beach, and $5 sunscreen applications like those available at the Jersey Shore.
"The beach should be a respite from the hustle and bustle," Matt Palumbo, 43, a surfer who grew up and lives in Southampton, said in an interview last week.
Tim Behringer, 60, a Southampton resident, attorney and surfer, predicted that next year more businesses would be coming to peddle goods on the beach.
"It's the one place we have we can still escape the madness," he said. "Where's it going to stop?"
The commercialization of the beach "is not going to happen," Epley said, because the village board won't allow it.
But, he said, "there are going to be surfing lessons. We're a beachside community."
Flying Point Surf School, where parents pay $750 for five days of instruction, had been using a narrow break off the "picnic area," a spot used by locals, who complained about the influx of kids, Epley said. Safety concerns were magnified last year when the camp put dozens of younger surfers in a small area with more seasoned surfers.
But, he said, the broader concerns about over-commercialization are unfounded.
"These are completely separate issues," he said.
Flying Point Surf School owner Shane Dyckman, of Sag Harbor, did not return calls for comment.
Eric Shultz, president of the Southampton Trustees, the separately elected body that oversees the shoreline, said it's unreasonable to ban moneymaking businesses on the beach. But if an operation gets too big, there can be "common sense rules and regulations."
"It's a natural resource everyone wants to use," he said.
Palumbo said that, while the surf school was the catalyst for the opposition to businesses on the beach, he's more worried about an underlying issue, that "the whole town is getting sold out to the big money people. The beach is the public's right of way. It's like selling air."