Cameras Show if Surf Is Good, but Surfers Are Getting in Way

January 27, 2008 at 8:55 pm Leave a comment

Ever since Jimmy Minardi mounted his $8,500 video camera last summer and aimed it at the Atlantic Ocean, the surfers here have been complaining.

Doug Kuntz for The New York Times

Mr. Minardi near where his surf cam had been stationed. He is working to replace it and vows, “They’re not touching this one.”

The camera streamed video straight to Mr. Minardi’s Web site, letting surfers check the waves without having to pack up their boards and head to the beach with fingers crossed.

These surf cams, or wave cams, which have gained in popularity in recent years, help advertise lesser-known beaches to outsiders who are looking for new surfing spots.

But the cameras have also caused problems in the territorial world of hard-core surfers, many of whom blame them for leading crowds to once-secluded beaches. Today, there are perhaps a dozen cameras along the South Shore of Long Island and another dozen along the Jersey Shore, surfers said.

Vandalism is common enough that the operators — from surf shops that run a single camera to large surfing-related companies that own dozens of them — keep the locations confidential. Officials at Wavewatch.com and Surfline.com, two of the larger surf cam sites, said they tried not to pick spots where the regulars would be riled.

Still, Jonno Wells, the chief executive of Surfline.com, which operates about 100 Web cameras at beaches from the Hamptons to Hawaii, said his company regularly received angry e-mail messages from “squawkers blaming cameras for crowding.”

Rafael Patterson, the brand manager for Wavewatch, which operates 18 cameras nationally, said his company also received complaints, but it tried to be sensitive in selecting surf cam locations. Mr. Wells said several of his company’s cameras had been damaged; Mr. Patterson said he did not know of any vandalism.

Mr. Minardi, 45, a native of East Hampton, is a fitness instructor whose celebrity clients include Jerry and Jessica Seinfeld. He said he shrugged off the complaints he received — until someone ran off with his camera last month.

The East Hampton Village police are questioning local surfers in search of a suspect.

Was it the actor and surfer who sent Mr. Minardi an e-mail message saying that as a member of the Screen Actors Guild, he would bill him at union scale every time he appeared on camera? Was it the person who threatened to block the camera by putting a sign in front it?

The camera was planted just east of the Georgica Jetties, a good wave break that does not attract the crowds that flock to better-known spots like Ditch Plains in Montauk. The problem, said Matt Norklun, the surfer-actor who sent the e-mail message, was that the camera attracted too many surfers, many of them neophytes (known to experienced surfers as groms or kooks).

As a result, there were jokes among the tight-knit surfing community here about how to block the camera. But after its disappearance, Mr. Norklun said, not even a whisper surfaced about who might have taken it. Or why.

Mr. Minardi said the camera could simply have been stolen for its value.

An outspoken critic of the camera, Mr. Norklun said the police questioned him after it disappeared.

“I don’t know who took it, but whoever it is, he’s a folk hero around here,” he said. “The police asked me, ‘Would you tell us if you did know?’ And I said, ‘Probably not.’ ”

As for his demand to be paid union wages, he said, “A lot of guys were angry with Jimmy, and I wanted to drive the point home that the camera was a nuisance.”

Mr. Minardi received permission to install the camera on the oceanfront property of the advertising executive Jerry Della Femina, in the rarefied Georgica Pond section of East Hampton, where Steven Spielberg and Mortimer B. Zuckerman, to name just two, have large summer homes.

The camera was mounted on a wooden post, tucked between two juniper bushes, that was cut down in a clean, smooth swipe, perhaps with a power saw.

“Someone definitely planned this,” Mr. Minardi said last week at the spot where the camera had been placed, a good walk from the public access at Main Beach to the east. The person who cut it down had to climb the sand dunes almost to Mr. Della Femina’s back deck to reach it.

Mr. Della Femina — who likes to hang out but not hang 10 — said he was unhappy that someone would cut down the camera on his property. “If I would have walked out while it was happening, would there have been a chain saw massacre?” he said.

As for the surf cam controversy, he said, “I find it incredible that there are surfers who think they have the right to a spot in the ocean.”

Not that this was the first case of surf cam rage. In Montauk, efforts to put up a camera at a well-known surf spot were met with angry threats. The camera never went up.

Mike Colombo, who owns the Right Coast Surf Shop in Seaside Park, N.J., said the installation of a camera at the Casino Pier in Seaside Heights aroused intense opposition.

“There was a big stink — like 80 guys sent angry e-mails to the owner saying, ‘Why do you have to point it at the best break around?’ ” he said. “Then it got ripped down last year. Some enraged local took a sledgehammer and smashed it to pieces. Now they have it on a long extension pole.”

Mr. Colombo explained it this way: “People don’t want their spot exposed to the entire world with the click of a mouse. If I put a camera up, people would boycott my shop.”

Back on Long Island, Luke Hamlet, who owns the Long Beach Surf Shop, would not say where his camera was placed, especially after one mounted near the Boardwalk in Long Beach was repeatedly vandalized.

“You definitely hear stories about people who hate them and throw rocks at cameras,” said Doug Parent, chairman of the New York City chapter of the Surfrider Foundation, a nonprofit group dedicated to the protection of beaches, although he noted that nothing like that had ever happened to two cameras at Rockaway Beach in Queens. “I’m not one for vandalism, but I could definitely see what would drive someone to do that.”

But Mr. Minardi, a regular at the Georgica Jetties here, dismissed the problems caused by surf cams and said the crowding was the result of a surge in surfing’s popularity.

Besides, he said, he set up his camera as a guide for environmentalists who were tracking beach erosion as well as for surfers. The camera, he said, had been pulling in up to 7,000 hits a day at MinardiTraining.com, his Web site.

Mr. Minardi said he had raised most of the money needed to replace the camera stolen from behind Mr. Della Femina’s deck.

“This time, we’re putting it up on the chimney,” Mr. Minardi said. “And I’m putting up a second, hidden camera to watch it. They’re not touching this one.”

By COREY KILGANNON

NY Times

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