While there certainly aren’t many surfers who will admit to liking localism–most, in fact, outright hate it–it remains an integral part of surfing’s culture. The majority of us engage in at least some small form of localism almost every time we surf, whether it’s cutting off someone who you don’t recognize as a regular, or staring down a beginner who clearly doesn’t understand the surfing codes of conduct. While localism can seem rude but ultimately harmless, in actuality, it reinforces a culture of exclusivity and racism. As surf communities are primarily white and middle-class, exclusion from surf breaks on the basis of where a person lives emerges as a method of racial segregation. While individual and blatant racist acts are rare out in the lineup, localism can reinforce larger systemic exclusions in the housing market that keep people of color from living in coastal towns and establish surfing as a sport reserved for Whites only.
Localism establishes a group that belongs in a certain space and that the space belongs to. Often, the frequency with which an individual surfs a particular spot relies on how close they live to the break. The warnings “If you don’t live here, don’t surf here,” “Invaders must die,” “Death to Invaders, Locals Only,” painted on the path out to Trestles exhibit the hostility that non-local surfers know will await them at the break. By limiting access to surf spaces based on residential location, localism directly supports exclusion based on racism in the housing market, both historically and contemporarily. A recent study by Surf-First and the Surfrider Foundation found that the average surfer travels less than 10 miles to surf. This means that the majority of surfers live 10 miles or less from coast, and an analysis of the racial composition of Southern California coastal neighborhoods reveals that the majority of residents are White, while almost none are Black. Collectively, Santa Barbara, Ventura, Malibu, Palos Verdes, Huntington Beach, Newport Beach, San Clemente, Encinitas, Del Mar, and San Diego are 62.34% White and 0.71% Black. Del Mar and La Jolla in San Diego County, two of the most popular and localized surf spots in Southern California are also two of the most racially homogenous communities. At 90.7% White / 0.2% Black and 82.5% White / 0.8% Black respectively, localized exclusion within these communities based on property becomes synonymous with exclusion based on race. Because of the extreme housing segregation in surf neighborhoods, black skin becomes a symbol of otherness and is never envisioned as an insider in surf spaces. While the ocean differs from residential markets in that waves cannot be bought and sold like houses, possession of space can be claimed and exchanged through a social currency of respectability and power. Localism exists in a perpetual state of transformation, continually mutating and adjusting with the individuals and groups that reproduce it. However, its primary function to maintain the segregation of surf spaces, although not explicitly, remains the same because residential segregation persists at extreme rates.