Executive Director, WiLDCOAST

"Engaging in localism is different than regulating a lineup." Art: Damian Fulton

The Inertia

In the middle of the night of 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.

Long-time 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…., 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 (my mother survived the German Blitz as a child in London), witnessing a racist shooting was my worst nightmare come true. But as a young surfer in the late 1970s and early 1980s in San Diego County, 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 wealthy enclaves like Palos Verdes, 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 people from using public beaches. In the 1920s, there was only one beach, Bruce’s Beach in Manhattan Beach, in all Los Angeles County open to people of all races.

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  • Patrick Hasburgh

    Love this one… brilliant…


    Maybe if a bunch of  tourist and weekend warriors didnt show up with 10 foot pigs and stand up paddleboards purchased at Big 5 Sporting good the locals wouldnt be so pissed. And maybe some people need to stick to softball or basketball or BBQs on the weekends instead of trying to be mr cool guy “SURFER”. Or even better yet maybe 90% of the guys in the water should focus on thier wives and children rather than getting divorced and quitting thier jobs just to be at the beach being an obstacle for true watermen.

    • Jiji

      … or maybe you should get a life. True waterman, what a joke!

    • Bert

      Let me guess: you’re never a tourist, which means you never try to go somewhere else. Or you’re a local wherever you go. You’re not, of course a week end warrior, you’re a 24/7 warrior.
      Your boards are never bigger than 6′.  You have the right to surf, because you’re Mr cool guy “surfer”, and you have the right to decide who is a surfer and who is not.
      You are not married and therefore won’t need to divorce.

      In other words, you’re the true watermen. So true you’re able to tell the others they aren’t.

      I hope one day you’ll change your mind, decide to travel. If you come to visit my place, I’d like to bring you on my waves, even though we’re not all true watermen and (sweet Jesus) some of us are divorced… I know that most of the guys in the water will never, ever think the way you’re thinking now.

  • Wyatt

    Let’s do ourselves a favor and not compare the drunken, jobless contractors who splash some water/wax a window to Hitler’s ethnic cleansing squad or its prison-gang offshoots.  That’s as easy as it is off-base.  However atrocious, the Nazis were an organized group with a unified purpose.  Those dudes in battered pick-ups – smoking 9AM joints, missing alimony payments and starting fights at the pier – are hardly the same.  They care not a lick for any collective objective (like say, exterminating a race).  They’re rogues, silly d-bags for whom the anger/fight – cathartic, redeeming – is paramount to any bigger purpose (empty lineup).   Take a long hard look at most of the local “enforcers” … they’re a laughable lot, lonely 50-somethings clinging to the past and their offspring, angry 17-year-olds who think Europe is the capital of Chicago.   If these guys present any larger/blossoming threat its most likely to more of their own kind and God bless ’em for it. 

    Sure, it’d be nice if they vanished/the mentality shifted, but I’ve seen little evidence that the issue is worsening  and in fact, many of the places that were localized when I was a kid have since conceded to the inevitability of outsiders and those same “enforcers” now wander the parking lots, tugging their beards and mumbling about “how it used to be.” 

    Localism is certainly a juicy part of our sub-culture – and fun to intellectualize (thanks Edward Sojoa, Distinguished Professor of Urban Planning and Studies at UCLA!!!!) – but its incestuous and failing to reproduce/expand on a bigger level.  There are bigger fights to fight.

    • Hasburgh

      Dude, write a book… I like what you’re saying, a lot.  

    • Hasburgh

      Dude, write a book… I like what you’re saying, a lot.  

    • Gasol

      Well said, Wyatt.

      On the whole, I support the author’s sentiment that mindless localism and exclusionary mentalities in surfing is bad.

      But painting that situation as analogous to the holocaust seems as clumsy as it is dangerous, which is surprising considering the author’s clearly intimate experiences dealing with both hate crimes and anti-Semitism.

    • Well said. I agree with the article to the point of localism. It should mean people who view the beach as a place not that they own, but as a second home. A place where if you see someone trashing it, you say something. You stand up as a community member and take care of it. True localism

  • Thanks for the comments. I also want to make clear (because I realize that I guess I didn’t do that in the article so wel)l–I don’t equate surfing localism with the very real organized violence of the Nazis etc. 

    What is similar that I do make clear is having groups of individuals decide who is a “local” and who isn’t and ultimately who has “rights” and then take actions to prevent “non-locals” from using a public resource or just existing. 
    When you start to evaluate the types of behavior that lead to ethnic violence and state-sponsored violence for any reason it is always having one group decide the fate of another based on arbitrary reasons–and this is the environment in which the “knuckleheads” flourish. 

    Why I realize that in some locations localism has been reduced, it appears that in some newer surfing destinations, it is has become a way of life. 

    And since I am involved in many other issues that take much more importance that surfing (see http://www.wildcoast.net), the issue of surfers working together to protect our coastal resources is paramount. 

    • Wildrnes

      Yeah, things got hazy in the delivery, but in the end we got the music. Good article in that it opened our eyes to your experiences and that you got the surf world talking. Maybe they did not agree with your parallels, you still made neurotransmitters fire. Good on you, mate!

  • Scott

    Localism isn’t just found in “wealthy enclaves.” Nor is non-responsive policing. Oxnard and Port Hueneme spring to mind. Indeed, poor, besotted Imperial Beach (Boca Rio specifically) was a bastion of snotty intimidation throughout the 80s at the hands of the “Black Sheep” crew…

  • Anonymous

    In my experience the only time localism is ever reduced is when a spot has become completely overrun with crowds. People are territorial, they always have been, they always will be. I don’t think any kind of analysis can possibly reduce any of localism’s ugliness. 

  • Surfpaul50

    I think the fact that the writer’s family experienced Nazism so personally, and for at least one person fatally gives the article integrity. If your uncle had died under torture by a ‘group’ that would alienate you, you’d be entitled to use it to make a point. I think calling the author a douchnozzle … well – no comment…

  • Al Baydough

    Way to make an overstatement.

     No doubt there are locals (a minority) who take things too far and ruin it for everyone (surf rage laws).

     However, ever since legislation was enacted to deal with any and all forms of enforcement in a lineup I have watched as more and more breaks have become increasingly crowded; mouthy punks that show no respect of any kind; complete kooks on oversized boards who only paddle out when there is real swell – that they have none of the required ability to handle; tourists with an “I can surf anywhere I want so f u!” attitude; Brazilians who think they are locals at every break on the planet; lawyers who drop in on everyone then threaten legal action if you confront them; a**holes with more money than sense who drop in on everyone and threaten legal action if you confront them; gaggles of idiots who paddle out on head high days and ditch their boards ’cause they didn’t learn to duck dive (or even turn turtle)…

     Some locals used to be the problem. Not anymore. In most lineups these days the problems I’m seeing are coming – overwhelmingly – from visiting surfers, most of whom are raging kooks.
     NEWS FLASH! The ocean, contrary to the hippie-dippy psycho babble that the uninitiated love to puke out, is NOT for everyone. Some parts are (Mondos, Doheny, San O, Rubber Duckies, Publics… you know, beginner spots) but most of the ocean and most breaks, ESPECIALLY those with consequences, are for a minority of people who put in the hard yards to develop the skill required to ride waves well enough to earn a spot on the totem pole. Opportunity is what’s equal but after that you must prove your mettle or just stay out of the way. Localism is like anything else: there is a positive (people who pull together to maintain a proper order and give everyone an opportunity to prove what they are worth) and a negative (a**holes who beat the crap out of people – or worse). Between the poles are many variables. As much as it sickens me to see someone take a beating they do not in any way deserve I have to admit I enjoyed surfing a lot more when there was a sense of consequence in a given lineup for anyone who got grabby.  Silver Strand used to be fun (though certainly intimidating). Now it’s a joke. And it ain’t the locals that made it what it has become.  Sure, no one likes the feeling of having someone tell you what you can or cannot do but taking that energy and cultivating it into perseverance, skill, and experience is what earning real respect is all about.  Few things in life feel as rewarding as knowing you earned your place instead of buying, bitching, or suing your way into it. 

    • Blasphemy Rottmouth


      Congratulations! You crammed more contradictions into one single comment than ever seen on a single surf blog.

      You ride that fence long enough and it will saw your colon in half.

    • Ibstonefish

      Well said brother.People just don’t  get it they think that i own a surfboard therefore i surf. They need to put out a book ( surfing for idiots ) that should at least put a clue in peoples head.

  • Tim Hamby

    Locals… Hmmm… I’m confused… What’s a local again? … Is it based upon Residency? …  Frequency of sessions? … # of Years that I’ve surfed a particular break? … 

    How close do I have to live? Do I have to live right ON the ocean, or can I live across the street from the break? Walking distance? Biking distance? What if my mom’s ferrying me there from town 20 miles away, but I’m on it every day? Can I still be considered a local?I personally surf about half the time at a break right across the street from me, then another 40% of the time at a beach 1 mile north. Do I qualify as a local at both breaks? There’s actually about 5 breaks here in my city that I’ll hit periodically based upon conditions and who I’m paddling with. I’ve been surfing all these places for years. Am I a local at all of them? Only the ones that surf most frequently? What qualifies me? Every day? 2-3 times a week? Once a week? Once a month?Give me a break– I’m a third generation native of the area! 

    What about that new guy who just moved into that oceanfront home a couple of months ago?  I saw him out front once… He’s got a board… Has he got local status on me?

    I used to live in a condo with my dad right at the foot of the pier. I learned to surf at that spot and kind of grew up there, but then moved away. Once in a while, I like to go back for nostalgia. Is that new little kid from town who’s surfing there all the time the new local now? And I can’t be one?

    What if I know 1… 2… 3.. 4.. 5… people there, and he only knows… 2?!!!

    I ride a shortboard… or was it longboards that locals are supposed to ride? I can’t remember what that rule was.

    How am I supposed to I know who the locals are? How can I identify myself as one? Is it just the angry looking folks? Are the locals the best surfers in the water? Because I’m certain I’ve seen many of those guys getting into their cars, never to be seen again. 

    Here’s a novel idea: If we all respect each other in and out of the water, then we’ll be 100% certain that all locals and non-locals are being treated fairly and properly. It may not be that simple. 

    But, it should be.

    • Ben Adler

       Great writing !!! And you have my Amen to.

  • Anthony Clifton

    I don’t think that Larry Herzog or Edward Sojoa’s psuedo-marxist theories have any relevance to this subject. Not sure that it’s really a civil rights issue either.

    It’s a matter of law enforcement. Threats are a violation of law. If a group of people is conspiring to create and benefit from threats, we have laws that allow prosecuting every member of that group as if they all engaged in the threat.

  • Rick

    While I agree with what you’re getting at with aggressive locals; how often do visiting surfers not consider how their presence affects the lineup?

    Is the break already crowded?

    If so, is there another peak around that’s less crowded?

    Is the wave within their abilities?

    Are they willing to take a wave or three on the head to stay out of other surfer’s way?

    Can they duck dive / turn turtle and HANG ON to their board?

    The above aren’t local’s rules, or even etiquette – they’re basic safety and consideration for others in the water.

    How often do visitors, or even locals at a spot have no manners at all? Sitting at my local break recently on a day with long lulls, two guys paddled out into the lineup. After a few minutes a set came in. It wasn’t my turn, so I watched as one of my friends paddled for a wave while one of the new guys spun and did the same. He did it again and again until finally someone pointed out to him that we’d all been waiting a while for those waves, it wasn’t his turn yet, and if he kept it up it wasn’t going to be his turn that day.
    It’s akin to visiting a stranger’s house and crapping on the floor.

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