Lunada Bay localism faces a new challenge
On the weekend of Jan. 18, forecasts promised overhead swells – the arrival of winter waves, typically the South Bay’s biggest and best.
The energy within the surf community was heightened by another rumor: that a group of surfers was planning a protest Jan. 20 at Lunada Bay. Its aim was to defy the localism that has for decades denied surfers from outside Palos Verdes access to the bay’s big right-hand break. Localism has protected Lunada Bay waves from outside surfers, but also precipitated violent conflict.
The surfers planning to mobilize on Jan. 20 were fed up.
Energized by the leadership of well-known bodyboarder and Blue Crush actor Christopher Taloa, they planned to turn out in droves, deriving strength from their numbers, in a declaration of their right to surf Lunada Bay.
Most of the protesters claimed to have been hassled or attacked by Bay Boys, the moniker for a group of locals renowned for vigilantly and aggressively protecting their turf.
At dawn on Jan. 20, Taloa called his hundreds of Facebook followers to action.
“The place is prepped and ready for loving individuals to play in the loving waters of aloha,” he wrote on his Facebook page. “See all you people there and let’s enjoy Martin Luther King Junior’s holiday like the King would have wanted us to.”
Taloa asked his fellow protesters to refrain from aggression, to comply with all rules and regulations “as if the place were a military base,” and to bring cameras to document any violence.
His mission? To peacefully unlock Lunada Bay for surfers everywhere.
“I’m not going to stop until the door’s open and it’s comfortable and beautiful and people can go surf without issue,” Taloa told Easy Reader. “I see this wave and that wave firing and not a soul is out. That’s greed. Everyone on the north side of this bay and the south side of this bay can’t surf here because they’re scared to come here. That’s ridiculous.”
Negative publicity has been following the Bay Boys for years.
In 1995, a schoolteacher went to Lunada to surf and went home with a smashed pelvis, lacerated liver, and several broken ribs.
In 2002, Surfing Magazine named Lunada one of five surfing Meccas to avoid. The Encyclopedia of Surfing, written in 2005 by former Surfer Magazine editor and Mira Costa graduate Matt Warshaw, calls Lunada “the surfing world’s most localized break.”
“Lunada Bay in Southern Los Angeles County is generally recognized as the surfing world’s most localized break, and in some instances — in Oxnard, California, as well as Lunada — law-breaking local surfers have been convicted of assault charges,” says the encyclopedia’s entry for localism.
Under the subhead for surfing and violence, the encyclopedia explains that “surfing violence in modern times almost always has been the result of turf-protecting localism, overcrowding, or competition… California surfers visiting Hawaii as far back as the 1940s were often challenged to fight. Californians in turn popularized localism in the late ‘60s as a way of keeping outsiders at bay; nonlocals were abused verbally and sometimes physically, but the most popular tactics were to smash visitors’ car windows and/or puncture their tires.”
In 2010, Lunada ranked first on a LAsurfspots.com’s list of the top five places in Los Angeles to get “punched out in the surf.” The other four were Indicators (also in Palos Verdes), Breakwater in Venice, Topanga, and Malibu.
Surf website magicseaweed.com calls Lunada a spot “infamous for nasty localism.”
“The locals can (and probably will) make you feel most unwelcome,” the site warns. “Fights and fractured bones are commonplace, as are arrests and lawsuits in recent years. Not a recommended surf spot for outsiders.”
One longtime local surfer, who spoke on condition of anonymity, explained that while localism persists at other South Bay spots, Lunada is different for two reasons: it’s a fairly consistent wave, and the only way to access it is via a narrow path down a steep cliff, which is easier to obstruct than a wide-open beach.
Both Breakwall in Redondo Beach and the jetty at El Porto are likewise known for localism, but Lunada Bay makes national headlines.
“I think Lunada Bay is a hotspot because it’s known to be a better wave,” the surfer said. “It can hold any size swell – it can hold a wave five foot up to 30, which is pretty unique. Usually when a swell gets that big it’ll close out, but Lunada Bay has the ability to hold a good swell… The other thing about localism there is it’s easier to clamp down because you’ve got one access point. The [Bay Boys] can have guys on the cliff, guys at the little makeshift shack. They’ll see you parking, they’ll see you coming down the trail, it’s not a spot that you can kind of sneak into. There’s no way around them.”
Like most local surfers, he dares not paddle out at Lunada.
“Out of respect for those guys I don’t go up there,” he said. “I have a daughter. I don’t need death threats.”
Still, he understands the rationale behind the localism.
“There’s two sides to every story,” he said. “When you get a big swell in the South Bay, a couple spots are going to be notorious for being able to handle a big swell – Lunada, Breakwall, the Jetty/Hammerland north of El Porto. You have different cliques that control each… What can happen is you get somebody who may not be a good big-wave surfer who thinks they can handle it, thinking they can go out there and be macho, but they can actually cause harm to those who know how to surf, guys who don’t understand the matrix of surfing… What localism is trying to do is to keep guys who know how to surf big conditions in the line-up, so that way they don’t have guys coming out who could possibly cause injury to themselves or other surfers.
“They have a really good wave and they don’t want it to become El Porto,” he said. “El Porto is crazy, especially this year. You can ask anyone, it’s an absolute madhouse… The crowds have been insane. In Lunada they don’t want that. They don’t want to have 15 guys on every wave and 15 guys who don’t respect surfing paddling into a wave. Then you’ve got traffic and homeowner problems – they don’t want to have 1,000 surfers coming into their backyard every day.
Limited access at Lunada works in the Bay Boys’ favor, he said.
“Anywhere there’s a parking lot right next to the beach, it’s hard to localize that. But at Lunada, the cliff is the only way down.”
The most effective way to hedge against overcrowding, he said, is to fiercely protect a surf spot.
Warshaw’s Encyclopedia of Surfing notes: “Localism has been condemned for the most part by the surf press, who often refer to it as a ‘plague’ or ‘cancer,’ but at a basic level it’s proven to be an effective practice: fervently localized surf breaks such as Lunada are in fact less crowded while non-localized spots (Malibu, for one) are overrun with visitors.”
They may have reason to resent overcrowding: the number of surfers in U.S. waters has doubled over the past decade. There has also been a significant increase in numbers of bodyboarders, kayak surfers, and stand-up paddleboarders. According to Warshaw’s encyclopedia, localism in California increased as numbers of beachgoers rose.
A pecking order governs surfing at Lunada Bay, he explained. At the top of the hierarchy are the older surfers who were initiated, so to speak, decades back; beneath them are younger Lunada Bay locals who have proven their salt as surfers.
Over the years, there have been attempts to crack the area’s localism. By most accounts, the last one – staged more than 10 years ago – failed. But the Jan. 20 movement was expected to be stronger. The week prior to the event, it had already piqued the interest of tens of thousands of people on the Internet.
MLK Jr. Day
“I was scared sh*tless,” Taloa said of turning up to Lunada Bay on Jan. 20. “I didn’t want to do this, but this place has had a fear over me for 12 years, and my uncles [encouraged] me to do something… Eight years ago, my brother was [harassed]. They were screaming and spitting in his face; he was followed by six people all the way up the cliff to his car. I thought about how humiliating and embarrassing that garbage is. I really can’t judge them – I’m from V-Land, we did the same crap. They’re not bad, just in their place right now. We were in that place, but we had to grow. Populations are growing, people know about this place. They’ve known about this place since the fifties.”
V-Land is Velzyland, and refers to a popular wave on the north shore of O’ahu.
“We grew up out of that stuff,” he said. “We know that’s not the way to be. The ones who didn’t are dead already. That’s what happens when you’re like that – your heart stops.”
After hearing about the Lunada incident with his brother, Taloa was unsettled but chose to shrug it off. Then, on Dec. 21 last year, one of the alleged perpetrators showed up on the doorstep of his O’ahu home.
“He was sitting with my friends and sisters, eating off my plates, and enjoying his life,” Taloa recalled. “I don’t know how to handle that very well. If we can take you into our house and show you love, why is it we can’t get the same thing back?”
Taloa, who now lives in L.A., started to mull the idea of staging a protest.
A Facebook message from his brother – “I want everyone to be able to surf that spot, not just us, cause that would be no fun and I didn’t start surfing to be a selfish @#$hole,” it read – was all the encouragement he needed.
Surfer Rory Parker, a Hermosa Beach native who writes professionally about surfing for websites like Reddit and The Inertia, offered to help Taloa out. He brought to the movement a platform of expression and thick skin acquired through years of writing publicly and receiving angry responses from anonymous internet users in return.
On Jan. 16, Parker posted a call to arms on the two websites, decrying the violence and vandalism that has characterized the modern history of surfing in Lunada Bay.
“Through violence, intimidation, and with the de facto blessing of the local police, the Lunada Bay locals have worked a miracle,” the post read. “They created for themselves a world where they can travel as they please, free to enjoy any wave, anywhere they want, while denying the world access to their own. Before the apologists chime in and cry, ‘But you’ll ruin the spot. They’re just trying to protect a beautiful resource,’ think on this: Lunada is a fickle wave, and only breaks a handful of times each year. The same sociopath who’s tossing rocks at your head as you climb down the cliff is surfing your local break most of the time. He’s paddling out in Torrance, Hermosa and Manhattan Beach. He’s taking road trips to Baja, flying to Oahu in the winter. He’s joining the pack at Lowers, and snagging sets in Huntington Beach. Monday, January 20th, Lunada opens for the public.”
Social media exploded with commentary. Many surfers shared personal accounts of being harassed at Lunada Bay. Others argued that localism serves a justifiable purpose: to prevent overcrowding. Still others left disillusioned messages, doubtful that the movement would have any impact on the future of surfing in Lunada Bay.
“I’m really surprised at how much this took off as fast as it did,” Parker said two days before the planned demonstration. “There are just so many people who feel the same way about this, so many people who have something to say about it.”
Almost immediately after he had posted the notice, threats of violence and even death appeared in his inbox. But Parker was unfazed, buoyed by a belief that localism runs counter to the essence of surfing, which he believes is to have fun, keep fit, and partake of an incredible natural resource.
“This just feels like the right thing to do,” Parker said. “It’s a corny, stupid reason for putting myself out there like this, but it’s the right thing to do… We all share resources. They [Bay Boys] leave The Hill to go shopping. We’re going to climb The Hill to go surfing.”
Ultimately, the demonstration proved to be less sensational than had been anticipated. It was, by most accounts, uneventful.
Social media had widely disseminated news of the protest, and dozens of spectators lined the Lunada Bay cliff’s edge to watch the day unfold. A KTLA camera crew and a news team from a nearby high school stood at the ready. Several uniformed police officers, on motorcycles and on foot, looked on. (A call to the Palos Verdes Estates Police Department the week prior confirmed that news of the protest had reached law enforcement.)
Just a handful of surfers from outside Palos Verdes made the descent down the cliff and into the bay that morning.
Those who did, however, tell tales of being harassed despite the increased police presence.
“They tried to spear me in the face, shove skegs [fins] into my face, but I popped out and kept moving,” Taloa said later that morning. “If it was someone that doesn’t know that kind of behavior, they’re going to have a problem, but I’m from V-Land, I’m familiar with this. There’s not one individual that can go out there without getting harassed. I’d pretty much put money on it.”
Surfer Tyler Canali concurred.
“I’ve surfed all over California, all over,” he said. “Even the places they claim are aggressive [aren’t as bad] as that place. I was surprised by how crazy those dudes were. They hassled me the whole way out.”
Their tactic, he said, was not physical abuse but intimidation.
“They’re telling me, ‘Don’t bother going out, you’re not going to get a wave,’ and they cut me off on every wave,” he said. “Finally some dude paddled up to me as close as he possibly could and gave me this crazy-eyed death stare. Next thing, his other buddies are behind me and I’m surrounded. They’re as close as they can be, no one’s saying a word, just staring me down… They wouldn’t let me paddle out of this little circle. I was just trying to paddle away.”
Eventually Canali made his way to shore, where he said more hecklers awaited.
“They’re calling me a kook and telling me to leave – even little 12-year-olds,” he said. “I got hassled by every age group, from 50-plus to 12 years old.”
Of the police, he said: “They know what’s going on. It is what it is. Enough people have actually been beaten up for [them to know]. But it all happens out in the water. A cop told me, ‘If you take a punch, we’re going to arrest anyone you point out.’ Short of that, there isn’t anything they can do.”
Semi-professional bodyboarder Daniel Dorn told a similar story.
Born and raised in Redondo Beach, he had never surfed Lunada Bay for fear of violence. Taloa’s movement represented a chance to break that fear.
“I felt comfortable going that day because there were going to be other people standing up for their right to surf as well,” Dorn said.
But as soon as he arrived – via powerboat – he knew something was amiss.
“As we pulled up, we saw the police boat in the channel and we jokingly asked them, ‘Hey, guys, is it safe to surf here?’ and they answered, ‘I don’t know, it’s up to you guys. Are you going to get along with the locals?’ We were just blown away by that… We didn’t feel safe, even with them there.”
Upon greeting the pack with a hello, he was assailed by profanities and threats.
“There was a kayaker out there, paddling by, yelling obscenities to us, telling us to beat it and threatening us,” Dorn said.
There was, he said, one Lunada Bay local who was willing to engage in conversation with him.
“He told his side of the story about how they want to keep it old school and they don’t like bodyboarders and longboarders and they want to keep it how it’s been,” Dorn recalled. “I told my side, about how I grew up less than five miles away and have always been too afraid to surf here.”
That morning, Dorn stood his ground and caught one wave.
“Two guys dropped in on me down the line and almost ran me over,” he said. “They tried assaulting me with their surfboards but I just kind of went around them and pulled off the back and paddled back out… I ended up bailing.”
He was both surprised and shaken up.
“I lived on the north shore of O’ahu for eight years [but] I’m born and raised in Redondo,” he said. “I’ve never seen the type of localism I have in Palos Verdes. I moved out to Hawai’i and surfed Pipeline every day. They have some of the most heavily localized waves out there, but they don’t say, ‘You can’t paddle out.’ They say, ‘If you’re going to paddle out here, follow the universal rules of the ocean.’”
And what are the rules?
“Be respectful, wait your turn, stay out of the way of other surfers, don’t be a danger to others, put in your time so you can learn the ocean and its behavior,” Dorn said. “It’s pretty simple.”
He understands resistance to overcrowding, but says big swells naturally weed out less capable surfers. In the water, as on the shore, respect must be earned.
“The natural order of things is the guys that put in the most time get the best waves,” he said. “It’s not hard for them to get the best waves because they know the waves better than the rest of the pack.”
Dorn was wary of speaking publicly, but ultimately felt an obligation to make a stand.
“I might take a lot of heat for speaking out because some of my friends surf the breaks out there, but if it helps future wave riders [to surf] without fear one day, it was worth it.”
He paused, and offered up a Machiavelli quote: “There is nothing more difficult to take in hand, more perilous to conduct, or more uncertain in its success, than to take the lead in the introduction of a new order of things.”
Not backing down
On Jan. 22, the protestors created a Facebook page called Aloha Point Surf Club to garner support for their movement, which they promise has yet to reach its conclusion.
“Our movement’s entire goal is pretty simple,” reads one post on the page. “We’re trying to get a small group of full grown adult human beings to stop… threatening to beat [others] up for merely attempting to go play in the ocean.”
To date the page has received more than 2,000 Facebook likes.
Taloa is still committed to his adopted cause: opening Lunada Bay to the entire local surfing community.
“These guys pushed some Hawaiian’s buttons,” Taloa said. “I’m fired up sideways about this. We got a lot of work to do, but I ain’t going to stop. This is pack number one. We’re coming here deep, as many times as we can. We’re not going to get picked on.”
Others are less confident that planned resistance will have any long-term consequence. As one anonymous online commenter articulated: “It won’t work, and in two weeks it’ll be exactly the way [it has] been for 40 years.”
For more on Lunada Bay: easyreadernews.com/80423/bavada-at-lunada-second-helpings-hamburger-hill-2/