Venice may have garnered a national reputation for its style of surfing, but surf contests will no longer be permitted at the beach, according to the Los Angeles County Department of Beaches and Harbors.

The annual Surf-a-Thon, a grass-roots surfing competition started 11 years ago by Ger-I Lewis with the help of local surf scenesters, was denied a permit this year by the county.

Lewis has applied for and been granted a Commercial Beach Use Permit for the event for at least the past five years, but that was a mistake, says Lynne Atkinson of the Los Angeles County Department of Beaches and Harbors

“It’s simply an event that slipped through the cracks the last few years,” says Atkinson.

Atkinson says that Beaches and Harbors adopted a policy about three years ago of not granting permits for special events to take place on the sandy beach or in the parking lots at Venice Beach, the area of Venice that the county is responsible for.

The reason for the policy is that Beaches and Harbors feels that Venice Beach is impacted enough by the day-to-day activities of the area and the events organized by the City of Los Angeles Department of Recreation and Parks, says Atkinson.

Events organized on the boardwalk and at the Venice Beach Recreation Center are granted permits through the City of Los Angeles.

The county policy does not apply only to surfing events, says Atkinson. All other events including a volleyball event were told to look for other beaches. And no exceptions were made, even for yearly events that the public had come to expect, says Atkinson.

Lewis says that this isn’t the case and believes that bias played a role in the denial of the permit for Surf-a-Thon.

He cites the annual Penguin Swim and the Los Angeles Triathlon as proof that the county selectively grants permits to groups of its choice.

“Why do they [Penguin Swim] get the permit and we don’t?” Lewis asks. “It’s obvious to me that something stinks at Beaches and Harbors and needs to be cleaned up.”

Atkinson admits that special exceptions were made for the Penguin Swim and the Triathlon.

“We consider the Penguin Swim more of a community event than a big public event. We grant them permits so they can have lifeguards.

“As far as the Triathlon, that’s an event that the City of Los Angeles came to us and specifically asked us to grant them a permit for,” says Atkinson.

Lewis says that local Venice surfers are “dismayed” at the County’s decision.

“The Surf-a-Thon” has become an institution of sorts for our community,” says Lewis.

Atkinson says that the surfers are left with two options — to apply for a permit at a different beach or to stage the event as just a simple gathering of surfers, without the hype and frills of a contest.

Moving to another beach is not likely to sit well with Venice surfers, who have a reputation of being swollen with local pride.

So this year, the surfers will try to conform to Atkinson’s second suggestion, that the event be transformed into a simple gathering of surfer peers, say Lewis.

For the event to take place without a permit, it must include no commercial activity, no posted signs and no advertising and must not involve more than 50 people, says Atkinson. This means no sponsorship, entry fees or prizes.

Surfers still plan to assemble for a judged gathering, starting at 7 a.m. Sunday, October 24th, at the Venice Beach breakwater, (ocean end of Windward Avenue), Venice. A Surf-a-Thon after-party with DJs and live bands including Fat Head, The Rabies, Left Hand Side and Down Stroke and a “Miss Surf-a-Thon” bikini contest is scheduled for 8 p.m. at The Bitter Redhead, 2101 Lincoln Blvd., Santa Monica.

Admission is $10. After-party information, (310) 578 7575.