Last summer I had a conversation with a kiteboarder about his sport and the clan-like nature of his fellow athletes. He told me that the local government body has entertained the idea of putting more rules and restrictions on kiteboarding but that, thus far, they’ve been stymied. Every time they try, the community of boarders rallies information and support and kills the case for more regulation.
As usual, calls for government intervention follow highly visible events. Political operatives rarely push legislation because they spent hours studying how to make life better; instead they respond to opportunities to gain public support by appearing as the savior after bad things happen. In this case, there was a kiteboarder who cruised too close to swimmers and had a collision. No major injuries resulted, but it got a local reporter to write about this “growing problem”. Ordinances were proposed. Kiteboarders were able to stop them, mostly because the public was pretty indifferent and the few people that did care heard their stories.
The boarders explained two things: that no one could police bad actors better than they already were, and that no one should forget the immense value of kiteboarders, which outweighs the slightly increased risk to swimmers.
To illustrate the first point, the guy I was talking to described how all the boarders know each other, and new kites quickly attract the old guard. They get to know the new boarders and make sure they realize they are not only representing themselves, but are part of a community with all the benefits (helping each other in rough weather, etc.) and accountability. He said when an “idiot boarder” showboats, is in over their level of experience, or gets too close to swimmers, others in the community are quick to respond. Sometimes they even threaten to “take action” if the behavior doesn’t stop. He told me this works remarkably well. He laughed at the idea that shore-based beach police could respond to rogue boarders in any meaningful time-frame. He said by the time they arrived, the bad actor would have been thoroughly dealt with by other boarders.
The second point was even more powerful. Do kiteboarders increase the risks of beachgoing? Sure, a little bit. It’s one more thing going on and collision is a possibility, self-patrolling notwithstanding. But what about the benefits? Not just the economic benefits to beachside businesses from the popular sport, or the benefits to boarders themselves, but what about a reduction in risk to the beachgoing public? This boarder told me that in the last two summers alone no fewer than three people, two of them children, were saved from drowning by his fellow athletes. The kites allow boarders to zip across the water at lightening speed to the aid of struggling swimmers long before anyone from shore could. I’d take a slightly increased risk of a collision with a rogue boarder along with an reduced risk of drowning any day.
Every perceived new danger brings calls for regulation and intervention. But who is better at producing order and reducing risk; communities like the kiteboarders, or professional bureaucrats and enforcement agents? For a pleasant and safe beach experience, I’d take kiteboarders over cops any day.
(Also posted at LFB.org)