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Surf therapy group seeks use of Cherry & Webb Beach — parking an issue

Program already in place at South Shore Beach in Little Compton

By Bruce Burdett
Posted 7/22/20

WESTPORT — Selectmen took no action last week on a surfing therapy program's efforts to use Westport's Cherry & Webb beach for some of its classes and activities.

Board members said they …

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Surf therapy group seeks use of Cherry & Webb Beach — parking an issue

Program already in place at South Shore Beach in Little Compton

Posted

WESTPORT — Selectmen took no action last week on a surfing therapy program's efforts to use Westport's Cherry & Webb beach for some of its classes and activities.

Board members said they want to first hear the Beach Committee's recommendation since the proposal raises questions including parking and safety.

Fall River-based Gnome Surf Therapy, which uses surfing to provide “a culture shift toward happiness, kindness, love and acceptance for all kids of all ages,” including those with disabilities, and adults, already uses Little Compton's South Shore Beach and hopes to do some of the same at Cherry & Webb, a spokesman told selectmen.

The proposal seeks use of the beach for a children's group on summer Saturdays from 5 to 8 pm, which would require permission to park 10 to 13 cars, and for one-on-one lessons on two or three weekdays and Saturdays which would require permission to park two cars.

While they voiced support for the program, selectmen worried about promising parking at a lot that is almost always full.

The problem, said Beach Committee member Sean Leach, is that 3,700 Westport residents have beach stickers (which are required to park at Cherry & Webb Beach) this summer, but the parking lot has only 104 spaces.

He said he checked the lot the previous evening and found that it was full — there would have been no place to fit any additional cars.

Selectman Brian Valcourt said he'd tried to go to Cherry & Webb on Sunday but there was no place to park.

It was a zoo. Many of the cars didn't even have a town sticker. They were just taking the ticket … If you get there after 9 or 10 in the morning you're not getting a space.”

Mr. Leach said he also worries about rip tides which are frequent at Cherry & Webb, especially over the past week. Who would be responsible for safety, he asked, since the lifeguards leave at 5.

The Gnome spokesman said he understands the issue and wouldn't want participants showing up only to be turned away for lack of space. Students taking part would be Westport residents, he said, so might already have town beach stickers, although instructors wouldn't qualify.

Selectman Steven Ouellette said he placed the item on the agenda at the request of a number of Westport residents who would like to see the program become available at Cherry & Webb. He added, though, that he appreciates that parking is a challenge.

Board Chairman Richard Brewer said he believes selectmen shouldn't act before receiving Beach Committee guidance. The vote to table the matter was unanimous (Mr. Valcourt abstained because he had not yet been sworn in since the last election).

Founder Christopher Antao says of Gnome Therapy, “We are a 501(c)(3) non-profit Surf Therapy organization providing surf therapy, art therapy, eco therapy and yoga therapy to children and families of all abilities, on the autism spectrum, down syndrome, and the LGBTQ youth … We believe that surf therapy can be enhanced by building friendships and bonds that can only be created in these intimate settings.”

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