A Montauk surfer and a longtime lifeguard will have their day in court on Aug. 22, and the outcome may shake things up or settle them down at Ditch Plain, the popular Montauk surfing beach.
Jasper Conroy, a 26-year-old surfer, was charged on July 9 with violating the town code by failing to get out of the water when told to do so. The lifeguard, John McGeehan, who also is the town squad’s assistant chief, had called the marine patrol to report that the young man had disobeyed his directive.
It was a beautiful Saturday morning, both men said, and the water was packed with surfers and swimmers. There may have been a surfing contest going on farther east and there was said to be a good wave. Mr. McGeehan is not only a lifeguard but a surfer and an attorney. He said he had allowed a number of surfers in the water, but soon noticed that some were getting too close to the swimmers.
“It was a beautiful little wave. All summer I’ve been trying to figure out how to get them that wave and keep the swimmers safe. It’s inevitable that a surfer is going to catch a right that he can’t get out of,” he said, meaning the surfer would wind up in the swimming area.
A no-surfing zone is marked at Ditch by flags.
Mr. Conroy, who is a resident of Ditch Plain Road and has been surfing there since he was 12, said he was at least 15 yards to the west of the swimming area. At some point, the lifeguards decided to move the flags, extending the swimming zone, and to shift the surfers farther away from it. To do that, Mr. McGeehan said, they had to get everyone out of the water.
Mr. Conroy said he saw commotion on the beach, but didn’t realize he was being told to get out. He said he eventually noticed a man on the beach waving his fist at him. He got out of the water, asked what was going on, and told the lifeguard he was in the right zone, he said. By then, however, marine patrol had arrived, and Mr. McGeehan reportedly said, “Give this kid a ticket.”
Ed Michels, the chief of marine patrol, said as far as he knew this was the first ticket issued for surfing at Ditch. “There’s a provision in the town code that you have to listen to a lifeguard,” he said. “It’s a safety thing. All they’re trying to do is keep the swimmers safe.”
“It was so unfortunate. It really ruined my day. I asked them, do I have to go to court; is this for real? There’s a boundary, and I was outside of it. I’ll fight this until the end even through community service if I have to. I’m the first person to get a ticket at Ditch and I live in Ditch!” Mr. Conroy said.
Mr. McGeehan said there had been a problem with the failure of surfers to listen to the lifeguards’ commands. He said that 19 or 20 other surfers heard the call to get out of the water that day, however. Although the lifeguards’ truck has a P.A. system, the beach was too crowded to drive on, Mr. McGeehan said, and he used a bullhorn.
After Mr. Conroy was ticketed, Mr. McGeehan said they had spoken to each other and shaken hands. He indicated that he had no problem with the surfer’s fighting the ticket in court. “If he has an argument, as an attorney, I encourage him to argue it. That’s what the system is all about.”
“I’m going to plead not guilty. I’m not guilty. Surfers who don’t know what they’re doing shouldn’t have been around those swimmers. But I know what I’m doing,” Mr. Conroy said.