The story of the Lunada Bay Boys is a sad one. Not in the conventional sense – no one dies; no one has their heart broken. But it’s sad is because it’s about a group of privileged, self-important surfers, who didn’t realise how good they had it until it was taken away.
Surfing really took off in southern California at the beginning of the 20th century. Overflowing coastal communities spilled out into the Pacific, and before long every spot from Santa Barbara to San Diego was packed with a loyal, local following.
Crowds soon became an issue and for all that California has done for surfing, it is widely understood to be where many of the ‘not so subtle’ means of dealing with those who step out of line were developed. Wax on the windscreen, snaking every wave… and worse.
Anyway, twenty miles north of Long Beach, at an idyllic, if fickle right hand point, residents of the waterfront suburb of Palos Verdes decided to step things up a notch, all in the name of keeping the wave for themselves.
Local by virtue of a wealthy bloodline, the Bay Boys employed the most extreme tactics when dealing with any outsider who attempted to share their lineup. Intimidating words became physical threats in the water, with stories of violence and surfers returning to their cars to find tyres slashed.
Worth a black eye and an afternoon dewaxing the windscreen?
Soon enough tales had spread along the coast and Lunada Bay was considered not worth the trouble. Not that it stopped everyone from having a go. In the mid-90s a school teacher left with a fractured pelvis and broken ribs. In January 2014, army veteran Gerl Lewis had rocks thrown at his head as he made his way down the cliffside path to the shore, experiencing verbal and attempted physical abuse once in the waves.
Hearing such shameful stories about a group of 40-50 year old men widely regarded as ‘a group of selfish rich kids’, it’s hard not to wonder how they were able to get away with it for so long.
In 2015 a reporter from The Guardian recorded himself and a friend being threatened and generally made to feel extremely unwelcome, while stood on the shoreline at Lunada Bay. ‘We’ll burn you every single wave’, ‘stay away from this area’ and ‘If you come out here you’re gonna get a lot of sh*t’. They returned to their car to find it sprayed with eggs and “kooks” carved into one of the windows in wax.
Sharing their findings at the nearby police station, officers made their feelings about the Bay Boys clear: ‘grown men in little men’s mindset’, but offered little help, saying the situation ‘is what it is’ and that if it makes you uncomfortable, don’t go there. Some suggested they were reluctant to get involved in a wealthy neighbourhood that was simply enforcing its desired level of exclusivity.
Whatever the reason, it was going to take something more to tackle the issue. Ultimately it was growing public pressure that told, and in November of last year, city council stepped in. A “fort”, (more of a raised patio in truth), built by the Bay Boys was destroyed, with promises of increased police patrols and monitoring of forecasts to ensure officers present on the right days.
Surfers from nearby communities were driven to do more, and rang in Martin Luther King Day with a mass paddle out at Lunada Bay. The whole thing had a slightly timid, hushed tones feel to it but was celebrated nonetheless and seen as a turning point by The Aloha Point Surf Club, set up with the intention of making the bay a place people could surf safely.
First impressions are that the club have got what they want. They continue to encourage members to surf the break with as many friends as they can find, bringing along phones and cameras to document their experiences.
Unsurprisingly there have been shouts of disapproval. More surprising is that not all of these have come from Lunada Locals. Some argue that the Bay Boys were bastions, securing surfing’s dying tradition of localism at a precious maritime preserve in need of protection.
Another SoCal resident mused that while he had ‘not an ounce of respect for the mindset at Lunada Bay’ it did make him reflect on the shrinking list of good waves in California. After all, while there are no plans to destroy Lunada Bay as a surf spot, round the clock police coverage and drones buzzing overhead will do little for the sanctity of the place, never mind seriously pissing off taxpayers.
As little time as I have for anyone who tries to impose their own system of hierarchy on a section of public coastline, maybe the Bay Boys were more than bored rich kids who didn’t like other people playing on their slide. With squad cars circling the parking lot and officers patrolling the cliff, is this actually better than the alternative? Is a little localism justified if done in the name of preservation?
Well, probably not, and certainly not at the level the ‘Bay Boys’ had deemed necessary. As surfing gets more and more popular the crowding of once-quiet spots is sadly inevitable. But we always have a choice about how we react, as a visitor, but as a local as well. As the example of Lunada Bay shows, the choice we take might well depend on how much we get to enjoy our favourite spots in the future.
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