State of the Beach/State Reports/RI/Surfing Areas
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Inventory and Perception of Status
According to Surfer Magazine's The Surf Report and the Rhode Island chapter of Surfrider Foundation, there are 33 well-known surf spots in the state. The best-known surf spots are predominantly rocky bottom reef breaks or point breaks found along the rocky shoreline. A few beach breaks are also popular in the summer. The majority of the reef breaks are located along the rocky shore at low-use access points, while the beach breaks are at well-known public access points, like state beaches. To accommodate the summer crowds, RIDEM approved surfing on a trial basis at three state beaches, Scarborough, East Matunuck, and Misquamicut, between June and August of 2001.
The Surfrider Rhode Island Chapter scored a major victory when the Newport City Council voted unanimously in January 2001 to remove "surfing prohibited in certain areas" from the city statutes. A few months prior to that the Newport Cliff Walk Commission had met to discuss the possibility of posting signage along the Cliff Walk prohibiting many recreational activities including surfing, from the Cliff Walk. The Commission was entertaining this idea based on the above statute. Area surfers and access warriors voiced concern, voiced opinions, researched information, attended meetings, and pulled together to show that there is power in numbers and in teamwork.
In April 2013 came word that the famous Ruggles surf spot in Newport was threatened by a proposed project to re-armor and repair the city’s popular 3.5-mile Cliff Walk. A public notice filed on March 5th by Rhode Island’s Coastal Resources Management Council outlines the “proposed emergency repairs,” which consist of “restoration of damage to the Cliff Walk resulting from the impact of Post Tropical Storm Sandy.” The proposed project begins at The Breakers at Ruggles Avenue and continues to Bailey’s Beach at Bellevue Avenue and includes slope protection measures; repairs to structural walls and drainage; walkway and safety improvements; and installation of new decorative railings and landscaping. Most concerning for surfers, however, is the CRMC’s desire to install permanent armor stone fill below the mean high water elevation at three different spots along the Cliff Walk. Read more from Easternsurf.com.
Surfing area conditions are generally quite good in Rhode Island. This can largely be attributed to the low to medium residential density, and lack of major industry along the southern shores. The biggest concerns affecting the quality of surf spots are the accumulation of trash, decreasing water quality, and access to coastal breaks.
RIDOH, RIDEM and RIDOT have created a plan for the identification and elimination of pollution sources at 10 priority beaches. Scarborough State Beach and Easton's Beach, both popular surfing spots, were targeted as the highest priority beaches.
Recognition by State
Aside from the public beach areas, the state agencies and coastal towns are not actively concerned with the conditions of surfing areas because they are not high-use public areas.
Rhode Island does not officially recognize surfing as an economic, cultural, and recreational resource.
3% of respondents to the SCORP survey had participated in surfing over the past 12 months. In addition they participated in an average of 13.9 days over the past year resulting in 437,149 total activity demand days in 2002. 1% indicated that surfing is the most needed water based recreational activity in the state.
Both RI Sea Grant's Daytripper's Guide to Rhode Island and Public Access to the Rhode Island Coast identify and describe numerous surfing areas in Rhode Island, as follows:
Surfing has been an integral part of Rhode Island’s rich coastal culture since the mid-1950s. Rhode Island established itself on the surfing world’s map by providing surfers with well-known breaks such as Matunuck, Ruggles, and Point Judith. Having over 30 surf spots within its 40 miles of open-water coastline, Rhode Island serves as the Northeast’s premier surfing location, rivaled only by Cape Cod. Rhode Island’s coastline consists of sandy and gravel beaches, as well as rocky points, creating a variety of surf breaks.
A rocky point break, such as Narragansett’s Point Judith, provides surfers with a diverse array of wave types, ranging from long, lazy rollers to heavy, hollow barrels. The geography of the point allows these large swells to approach the land at an angle, causing each wave to gradually break to the right or left. Such conditions prevent the waves from crashing over all at once, a phenomenon known as “closing out” in the surfing community. The gradually breaking waves at Point Judith provide surfers with longer rides and help to establish the point as a preferred surfing location. These waves are not for beginners, however. Point Judith’s rocky shoreline, heavy undertow, and dangerously powerful waves render it a surf spot suitable for only the most experienced surfers. During storm swells, such as those produced by late summer offshore hurricanes, wave heights at Point Judith can reach and exceed 15 feet.
For a safer, more relaxed surfing experience, Rhode Island also offers several beach breaks, such as Narragansett Town Beach or Newport’s Easton’s Beach. Although providing less consistent surf, Rhode Island’s Surfing in Rhode Island sandy beach breaks are a great spot for less experienced surfers to have as much fun as the experts. Waves at a sandy beach break tend to provide shorter rides than those at a point. Since the swells are nearly parallel to the shoreline, each section of the wave reaches shallow water simultaneously, causing the wave to close out. However, bottom contour irregularities and sandbars cause some sections of a wave to break earlier than others and make the wave “ridable” for at least a short time.
During the summer, crowded beach conditions require authorities to designate sections of some beaches as “swimming only.” Although this helps to make the beaches safer for swimmers, it inhibits surfers from spreading out, and ultimately makes it difficult to surf on crowded days. To avoid the crowds, try surfing in the morning or the evening, or avoid the popular beaches altogether.
From the state’s Marine Resources Development Plan (p. 20):
“Rhode Island’s beaches and underwater geological features provide excellent surfing conditions with over 30 surf spots within its 40 miles of coastline. The surfing community is multi-generational and multicultural—allowing people of all ages and ethnic backgrounds to exchange stories of the subtle changes they witness in the coastal environment. This surfing community actively participates in sampling water quality and in monitoring coastal events that may go unnoticed by local and state officials.”
Local Surfrider Foundation Chapters
|Rhode Island Chapter
|41° 27' 0.37" N, 71° 26' 58.20" W
The Rhode Island Chapter of the Surfrider Foundation was formed in September 1998. A group of twelve individuals came together as a direct result of a booming population growth and increased recreational use of southern Rhode Island's coastal area. The RI Chapter of Surfrider Foundation has now grown to about 225 dues paying members, with about 25 active members who participate regularly in meetings and events. Join them and help them carry on the traditions!
The chapter is made up of volunteers just like you! The chapter is comprised of individuals from a variety of professional backgrounds, educational experiences, ages, and outdoor interests. Despite their different perspectives and life experiences, they have joined together with the common goal of promoting the protection and the preservation of the Rhode Island coast for the benefit of all ocean enthusiasts.
Check out the Rhode Island Chapter blog at http://ri.surfrider.org/
You can contact the Rhode Island Chapter via email at email@example.com
Surfrider Staff Contact
Northeast Regional Coordinator
The summary of surfing areas comes from Surfer Magazine's The Surf Report issues for the state. The Surfrider Foundation Rhode Island chapter was surveyed to establish surfing conditions in the state.
Other sources of information on surfing in Rhode Island include:
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