Why Surfing Localism Violates Our Civil Liberties

A look at how violent or aggressive efforts to push people out of local waves is similar to other forms of discrimination.

Editor's Note: A version of this article originally published on sister site . We decided to share the writer's opinion with our readers.

In the middle of the night—August 26, 1942—a group of French police under the orders of the Nazis rounded up a group of Jewish families in Nice.

My father’s family including his Aunt Anna and cousins Bernard and Lisette were among those taken to military barracks. There, according to Bernard’s widow, Dorothy Fall in her book "Bernard Fall: Memoirs or a Soldier-Scholar," "They all mingled in the filth and heat for a week."

My great-uncle Leo, husband to Anna and father of Bernard and Lisette, was later tortured and murdered by the Gestapo in November 1943 while he lay sick in a hospital bed.

The effort of the Nazis to exclude Jews and other groups of people from everyday life in Europe (and then exterminate them) was the ultimate form of localism.

Longtime residents and citizens of France including my own father, were delisted as "locals" or residents and all their rights and in many cases, their lives, were forfeited.

Those images of my father’s family came to mind when in 1980 at the age of 15, I witnessed a shooting in Imperial Beach during a community celebration of a cleanup of the Tijuana Estuary I helped organize and carry out.

While my friend Chris Patterson and I listened to a man and his friend sing and play the guitar outside the old Imperial Beach fire station, two men, members of the Aryan Brotherhood, confronted our group.

"Hey [N-word], get the hell out of here," the taller of the two men yelled at the guitar player who was African-American.

"Why don’t you get the hell out of here," responded the friend of the guitar player.

Without saying anything, the tall man took out a pistol and shot the guitar player’s friend in the mouth.

As someone who had grown up listening to the stories of what had happened to my father’s family at the hands of the Nazis (, witnessing a racist shooting was my worst nightmare come true.

But as a young surfer in the late 1970s and early 1980s in Southern California, I witnessed similar behavior all the time.

Gangs of self-described surfing "locals" either used violence or intimidation to prevent "non-locals" from using public space. In , this behavior was ignored and-or abetted by the local police.

Southern California has a long history of excluding "non-locals" from our beaches. Until recently some residents of Malibu contracted private guards to illegally keep the public from using public beaches. In the 1920s, there was only one beach in all Los Angeles County open to people of all races: Bruce's Beach in Manhattan Beach.

Unfortunately groups of thugs or self-described "locals" still populate the coastline and harass anyone they deem to be a "non-local" often using violence to prevent their fellow Americans from using public space.

Localism reflects "the increasing ecology of privatization and socio-economic segmentation in American cities," said Larry Herzog, professor of urban planning at San Diego State University. "We have become a nation of gated communities, and the ‘ecology of fear.’ Surfers, without realizing it... are channeling a preference for personal space, fenced yards or marked territory, and the unfamiliarity with being ‘public,’ or gracious about sharing a public space, like the ocean."

I asked Kevin Keenan, director of the San Diego branch of the ACLU, if the act of harassing or intimidating anyone from using public space, in this case the coast and ocean, violates fundamental American civil liberties?

 "In U.S. v. Allen, the 9th Circuit," Keenan wrote, "held that a band of racist thugs who patrolled a public park and kicked out some people through threats and intimidation based on their race were violating their federal civil rights (a federal crime). In this case the court (18 U.S.C. § 245(b)(2)(B) ruled that, 

Whoever, whether or not acting under color of law, by force or threat of force willfully injures, intimidates or interferes with, or attempts to injure, intimidate or interfere with any person because of his race, color, religion or national origin and because he is or has been participating in or enjoying any benefit, service, privilege, program, facility or activity provided or administered by any State or subdivision thereof, shall be fined under this title, or imprisoned not more than one year, or both;  and if bodily injury results from the acts committed in violation of this section or if such acts include the use, attempted use, or threatened use of a dangerous weapon, explosives, or fire shall be fined under this title, or imprisoned not more than ten years, or both.

"You could argue that civil rights law protects against chasing people off a beach or wave based on their race, color, religion, or national origin, but should also extend to other kinds of groups, like where a person resides. Not incidentally, given segregation in our society and other reasons, where a person resides often relates closely to race, color, religion, and national origin."

The sad fact is that most surfers don’t practice localism, but most do little if anything to prevent the bullying, violence and thuggery they witness by "locals" on almost a daily basis.

Engaging in localism is different than regulating a lineup. That can be done quietly and requires the type of leadership skills that hothead angry "locals" just don’t have. I only wish that the true definition of being a surfing local meant that a person was invested in the stewardship and conservation of a surf spot.

Instead of berating those of us who violate their "territory," angry "locals" should instead take leadership to conserve the beaches, waves and coastal and marine ecosystems and wildlife that grant us the good fortune of enjoying the blessings of surfing great waves and immersing ourselves in the ocean.

Imagine a world in which surfers worked together to save our surfing areas instead of screaming and fighting with each other over who has the right to enjoy the coast and waves. We would surf more, be happier, and have a greater number of spots to surf.

Serge Dedina is the Executive Director of WiLDCOAST and the author of Wild Sea: Eco-Wars and Surf Stories from the Coast of the Californias.

Seven Stillmore January 29, 2012 at 02:40 AM
Nazis atrocities, racist cold blooded murders, and bully surfers , quite a jump don’t you think? How on earth do you except anyone to take you seriously? Surf localism is a real thing, believe me, not just in the south bay, try to surf Rincon on a good break and not be a hommie, but to compare a car being keyed or the occasional bloody nose to Nazis? You do neither justice.
Conrad vonBlankenburg January 29, 2012 at 04:28 PM
What a stretch! Your propaganda is all over the map. Try to stay on the topic, " people who think they own the ocean". To equate the nazis with bad boys and girls on a plank is an insult to every WWII vet. You do not offer even one real life solution. What next? Cops on jet skis? So having run down you hit piece I will make a few suggestions that mite work. Over the past, 60 years, I have surfed all over the world. Here is what I learned. When you go out into the line up give um a hello. tell um your name and that you are just passing thru and would like to join in the fun and catch a few rides. Ask for advise and if it is OK to take this wave. Believe it or not this will work even after getting ten stink-eyes in the islands. As you leave invite them to surf with you at your local break if they ever get to (where ever). Keep the conversation going. even if you only get a scowl. It has worked every place I have ever surfed. Some time I make a friend or two and get a free meal out of it.
Conrad vonBlankenburg January 29, 2012 at 05:01 PM
"In the 1920's there was only one beach in all of L.A. County that was open to all races" Factually untrue! BTW! Just how many surfers were there in 1920? What color/race do you think the great Duke Kahanamoku was? I think you a in need of help.
kim January 29, 2012 at 06:34 PM
Serge, you are absurd....
kelly January 29, 2012 at 07:21 PM
Loved the story. Perhaps now with the internet, video cams and the news coming directly to our email boxes more people who have always wanted to surf Lunada Bay can. My husband being a surfer from Wilmington in the 70's, 80's, He's seen this go on for a long time. Never once surfed Lunada and has always said, " They can keep it.". Though I know he would have loved the chance to surf that spot. We've got 2 preteens who surf and we can see Lunada going off sometimes from burnout. Perhaps someday soon they'll get to surf there without being hassled.
Serge Dedina January 29, 2012 at 08:29 PM
Thanks for the comments which were vastly different in San Diego. Interesting to see the denial of racism in Los Angeles especially given the history of Bruce's Beach and the whole history of restrictive race-based covenants in many SoCal coastal communities. Seems to me that the history of violent localism in Palos Verdes was a little more than a "car being keyed." But then again surfing in many of the communities in SoCal where localism played out was all about defending the rights of the 1%.
Conrad vonBlankenburg January 30, 2012 at 12:22 AM
Serge, If you want support for your position then get your facts straight. Your story is all over the map. Narrow it down to one thing. Access to the waves. Read it your self. You will see what I mean. No one likes going out to play in the water and being hardtimed by some jerks any more than me. But calling in the ACLU?????? Also that was a real cheap shot about Racism. You have no right to say something like that about me and you know it. Then you go off on the 1%. That has nothing to do with surfing. Nothing. You had a chance to make an improtent point and you blew it.
Conrad vonBlankenburg January 30, 2012 at 12:24 AM
should have been dislikes.
RPV Resident January 31, 2012 at 04:58 PM
PV Patch, why would you publish this tripe? Are you seriously alleging that wealthy PV residents have colluded with local police to “abet” violence against non-local surfers? If so, you are going to need to provide better support than a link to an article about a surfer who once said something mean to another surfer in the Cove. The fact that this is labeled opinion is no excuse for spreading these false allegations. I think you at least owe an apology to the fine men and women of the PV Estates police department.
Meredith Skrzypczak February 01, 2012 at 06:05 PM
RPV Resident, I'm sorry you disagree with the author's thoughts in this opinion column, but we'd also like to hear your opinion. You're welcome to share your opinion on this surfing issue in a Letter to the Editor.
Meredith Skrzypczak February 01, 2012 at 06:06 PM
Letters to the Editor can be sent to meredith.skrzypczak@patch.com.
Jim Light February 02, 2012 at 12:41 AM
Get real.... anyone semi-serious about surfing has heard of the localism at PV. Local surfers know that at least one lifeguard and one fireman surf with the Bay Boys. I'm not accusing them of participating, but they certainly know what goes on and who is involved. And they choose not to get involved. It would not be hard for the PVE police to find and charge the perpetrators. It's not a CSI case. When Surfline volunteered a web camera for police to monitor the line up, residents forced it to come down under the cries of "privacy". At one City Council meeting, several residents in Lunada requested special colored curbs that would reserve parking for residents only. During the outfall of the Dirty Underwear Gang incident, a preacher raised in PVE and a PV Christian surfer group stuck up for the Bay Boy harassment, threats, intimidation and violence. "Thou shalt not surf at my break, though we may surf at yours...." That's a real Christian value to espouse. Members of the PVE surf team came out to verbally berate Surfrider members doing a beach clean up at the Cove. I could go on, but you get the drift. I know there are PVE residents who are appalled by the violence and harassment. But if the community really made it a priority, it could be stopped. The evidence is to the contrary, there are plenty of PVE residents who actively or passively accept the localism.
RPV Resident February 02, 2012 at 12:46 AM
PV Patch has been terrific in its informative and highly accurate coverage of our local community. Your decision to spread this disinformation on your opinion page is therefore a bizarre aberration. it would have been better if you had written an article that merely notes that Mr. Dedina, as a public advocate, had been making these allegations against the PV police. Or better yet, you might have investigated the allegations yourself and determined whether there might be any legitimacy to his claims.
RPV Resident February 02, 2012 at 12:59 AM
Mr. Light: Failing to do enough to stop a problem (perceived or otherwise) is a far different thing than abetting violence.
Jim Light February 02, 2012 at 01:29 AM
RPV Resident (afraid to use your real name?) - Certainly this is not just a "perceived" problem. Abet: Encourage or assist (someone) to do something wrong, in particular, to commit a crime or other offense. If you take down the means for the police to monitor the violence from the police station, certainly that action assists the perpetrators. If an accomplice spray paints the security cameras at a store being robbed, that would be abetting. Not a whole lot of difference here. Regardless, if the community wanted it stopped. It could be stopped. Redondo stopped it at the breakwater. PV could stop it, if they wanted to.
Jim Light February 02, 2012 at 01:38 AM
RPV Resident - you are quibbling about one statement that you are taking out of context. The article is about localism. There is plenty of evidence to support the claim that PVE has a persistent history of harassing, intimidating and at times violently attacking non-local surfers, their cars, or their surfboards. The author did not specify which category they believe PVE falls into - you seem to ignore that the statement says "ignored and/or abetted". I am certainly not impugning the integrity of any current PV police officers. But it certainly is not a priority for them. And I believe that is a reflection of the community. If the community were outraged or just made it a priority, it would stop.
RPV Resident February 02, 2012 at 03:47 AM
The pensinsula has one of the lowest violent crime rates of anywhere in the country. But, admittedly, surfers represent a small minority of the people here, so most of us would have no way of knowing what is going on in the ocean. I fall into the camp of those who would be appalled by the occurence of violent criminal activity on our shores (especially if the police were in any way abetting it) and would certainly welcome the opportunity to review any specific information anyone possessed in that regard. What I take objection to is unsubstantiated allegations being lobbed at local residents because some here fall within the 1% (as Mr. Dedina describes them). And I take even greater objection to our own local paper/website repeating those same allegations on its opinion page without taking any steps to investigate this issue or vet the claims. If there are crazed local surfer gangs committing violent crimes in PVE (with or without the support of the local police) then they should be stopped immediately. But nothing in your the article or your posts comes close to proving that is the case. You are confusing lack of information with lack of concern.
Jim Light February 02, 2012 at 04:00 AM
RPV Resident...Here is but one example from a simple web search :http://articles.latimes.com/2002/jun/07/local/me-surf7
RPV Resident February 02, 2012 at 04:09 AM
PV Patch please clear this up. Was your guest author referring to PVE police when he used the word abet or not?
Jim Light February 02, 2012 at 07:10 AM
RPV Resident - here's a short you tube. Makes you proud of the locals.... http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Sgw2bewrXGg&feature=youtube_gdata_player
RPV Resident February 02, 2012 at 09:52 AM
Oh, you're referring to a violent incident that occurred a decade ago. Why didn't you and PV Patch say so in the first place? You would have saved me a lot of wasted effort.
RPV Resident February 02, 2012 at 10:05 AM
It certainly appears idiotic, but it's hardly evidence of PVE police being accomplices to violent civil rights violations.
Serge Dedina February 02, 2012 at 02:33 PM
I would like to thank the readers for their comments. First--my essay makes clear that the incidents in Palos Verdes happened in the past. The original column that was published in San Diego County http://imperialbeach.patch.com/articles/why-surfing-localism-violates-our-civil-liberties included a link to a long article on the issue from 2002 reprinted via Surfline http://www.surfline.com/mag/pulse/2002/1/01_18_lunada.cfm documenting issues in Palos Verdes in the 1990s. In no way did I ever indicate that those issues were happening now. It appears that the column was edited in the South Bay to include a link to an article about localism in Palos Verdes from 2010.
Jim Light February 02, 2012 at 02:53 PM
RPV- wow, first you say you need proof. Then after multiple examples are given, you say oh well that one is dated. You can deny it all you want...but that does not make it go away. With residents like you looking the other way, it is no wonder it still exists.
Conrad vonBlankenburg February 02, 2012 at 04:20 PM
The issue of surfing localism can be summed up as follows. " Young male primates acting territorial". Watch any nature show and you will see the same thing. I have seen this bad behavior all over the world. No where worse then some places in Hawaii. If the cops in PV fail to do there job then take it to the D.A. Any place young males travel they are the "Chimp" on the outside. Learn to get along and it will save you some grief.
Jim Light February 02, 2012 at 05:18 PM
There is a spectrum of localism severity. While there are areas worse than PV from a localism perspective, PV is the worst in our area. And it is unique in that the residents in general endorse the localism either actively, looking the other way, or denying it...very few actively come out against it. One need look no further than some of these posts and the level of denial, quibbling on definitions and dates of solid evidence, etc. The situation is well illustrated in the case of the camera that was taken down due to resident opposition. I don't buy that the DA is the solution. Redondo successfully fought localism at the breakwater. It's not rocket science. And we know there are lifeguards and firemen who know what's going on. It's not like the perpetrators are unknown. Where there's a will, there's a way. But in PV the will is weak at best.
Jerry Wood February 02, 2012 at 08:35 PM
the solution to lunada is to start stand up paddling and just mosey on over from the cove or even the marina. You will get the wave first and can just mosey on back home. I would love to make it more accessible with a stairway down the cliff. Perhaps a path could be cleared and people could gofor walk down by teh water as well as fishing from teh rocks!
Gary D. McAulay February 07, 2012 at 09:00 PM
In a December article about the current South Bay Big Wave Challenge, the Easy Reader reported that the surfing contest runs from Dockweiler, south to Indicator in PV, with Lunada "excluded in deference to the locals' sense of entitlement." Obviously localism continues and is accepted.
Liz Spear (Editor) February 07, 2012 at 09:35 PM
Thanks for this information, Gary. My brothers surfed years ago, and I always heard about localism.
ronnie sims December 14, 2012 at 03:18 AM
i surfed all over the south bay in the 70s . indicater,haggs, kgs, lunada, whites point .all have locals and if they decided to pick you out you were at there mercy most of the time they were to scared to really call you out ,they would break your windows thrash your car ,write crap on your car through rocks from the cliffs you rarely saw anyone,mostly groms with a little help from a senior local Im 54 now and i still get it now and then good luck Ronnie Sims ZAPOT CREW


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