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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.

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 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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