Social media takes on localism

S. Whisper

To the south of the Los Angeles sprawl lies the community of Rancho Palos Verdes, which has historically struggled with issues of surfing localism. Aided by social media, some LA surfers are hoping to change that.

Chris Taloa fell in love with Lunada Bay the first time he saw it. "It's the only Hawaiian-style wave I've seen around here," said the former pro bodyboarder from Oahu. "It's such a beautiful place, and the wave has so much juice."

Taloa has lived in Los Angeles for 14 years and works in the movie industry. His first attempt to surf California's most famously localized spot, a normally benign break in the upper-crust enclave of Rancho Palos Verdes that only turns on during sizable winter swells, didn't go as he'd hoped. "A guy came up and threatened me straight away," he said. "It left a bad taste in my mouth. I don't like bullies."

Tales of fights, rock throwing and slashed tires have been a part of the Lunada surf experience for years, but it's hardly isolated. The ugliness of localism has long been something surfers have had to contend with. Places like Oxnard's Silver Strand and Oahu's North Shore have seen more than their share of violence and intimidation over the years. But as the surf population continues to balloon, overcrowded lineups are a growing problem with no remedy in the foreseeable future. Artificial reefs and wave pools have yet to relieve the pressures of too many people and not enough spots, and nobody has attempted to organize "tee times," limit the number of surfers in an impacted lineup at any one time or come up with other such solutions.

In 2010, Lunada Bay, a public beach, was named the surf spot most likely to get punched out at, by In 1996, one Lunada local was convicted of misdemeanor assault after threatening and pushing a non-local surfer who showed up with a cable TV camera crew in tow. The man was convicted, fined $15,000 and given two years' probation. In another incident, in 2002, misdemeanor assault charges were filed against a surfer from nearby Hermosa Beach when he threw a rock that hit the head of a local.

Nobody involved with the Palos Verdes "Bay Boys" chose to comment for this story.

But now the "Bay Boys" have come up against a group more powerful than anything they've ever faced: social media. Taloa and others have joined a movement to open the break to surfers from the greater Los Angeles area, and in January, the Aloha Point Facebook and Twitter pages sprung up online. Their aim: to "help surfers find other surfers to surf safely with at Lunada Bay in Palos Verdes Estates."

Among their initiatives, they encourage surfers to go to Lunada armed with video cameras and cell phones to document locals intimidating interlopers. They organized a "flash mob" on Jan. 20, just in time for the first overhead swell in months. Local news channel KTLA was on hand and caught a guy on film throwing a rock at a drone with a camera mounted on it, but otherwise the day passed without incident.

Besides Taloa, among those trying to rid the area of localism is U.S. Army veteran Geril Lewis, who wrote on his blog, "They tossed rocks down as we descended [the trail to the beach]. Any one of the small boulders could have killed us. The fact that we are humans, citizens, and had every right to surf at Lunada Bay had no effect on their conscience."

Even elite-level pros, who often lead a more charmed version of the surf experience, come up against people back-paddling and dropping in on them when they try to get a wave at Lower Trestles while warming up for the Hurley Pro each September. It would be akin to LeBron James or Kobe Bryant facing flying elbows or flagrant fouls from guys off the street while they got ready for games. Most surfers of average ability know the etiquette of surfing and practice it during uncrowded sessions, but on a typical day at Rincon, Malibu, Trestles or Swamis, those rules go out the window.

The situation in Palos Verdes is a case study in what happens when vestiges of old school, localized surf culture comes up against new school technology and a few hundred motivated surfers. It remains to be seen whether social media can cure the ills of the surf world and undo decades of localism. But with the proliferation of personal recording devices, publicity may be the best weapon against the privatization of Lunada.

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