Peter McCullom, a member of the feared Bay Boys of Palos Verdes Estates, stood beside one of the best surfing spots in Southern California and explained the law of Lunada Bay.
The law is as simple as a smack in the face: If you don't live here, don't surf here. Not if you know what's good for you.
"Everybody knows to stay away from Lunada Bay because they'll get hassled," said McCullom, 34, a Palo Verdes "local" who lives on an inheritance and spends his days surfing and traveling.
Last month, Los Angeles prosecutors slapped McCullom with a criminal charge after he and several friends confronted a group of surfers from Torrance who dared to venture to Lunada Bay. The Torrance surfers have filed a $6-million claim against the city of Palos Verdes Estates for allegedly looking the other way for years while the Bay Boys intimidated outsiders from surfing at Lunada Bay.
Incidents at Lunada Bay, where locals have long had the reputation of being the most hostile in Southern California to outsiders, are not the only cases of surf strife now headed for the criminal courts.
The number of arrests for surfer-on-surfer violence is still small. But the level of hostility appears to be growing, and each case is the object of much discussion on the beaches and in the surf shops of Southern California, possibly because violence runs counter to the surf mystique of a shared brotherhood among wave riders forever searching for the perfect wave.
At the Oxbow World Longboard Championships, held at Malibu's Surfrider Beach, a competitor and a competitor's father allegedly beat a non-competitor who refused to give up his wave. The 45-year-old victim suffered a separated shoulder and cuts that required 15 stitches.
The felony trial of ace longboarder Lance Hookano and Joseph Tudor, father of world-ranked surfer Joel Tudor, is set for late June. Hookano has not returned from Hawaii for court appearances, and a $100,000 warrant has been issued for his arrest.
In Del Mar, two surfers, one of whom was a martial arts expert, allegedly beat up a Chula Vista sixth-grade teacher, resulting in his being hospitalized with a broken pelvis, lacerated liver and damaged ribs after a dispute over who had priority on a wave. Amid disagreement over who threw the first punch, a trial is set for this summer.
Surfers and observers of surf culture say two factors are turning up the heat at the beach and in the water: the proliferation of surfing contests that require non-contestants to abandon the waves and increasing numbers of surfers chasing the same waves.
And then there is the decades-old phenomenon known as "localism," where surfers at a particular beach, or "break," do their best to scare outsiders into leaving.
Intimidation can begin as verbal harassment and escalate to threats to break the windows, slash the tires and snap the antennas of non-locals' cars. In some cases, localism leads to fistfights and spearing (diving off your surfboard in the water and aiming it at someone like a weapon).
Just how much intimidation goes on in the name of localism is unclear, but at least one veteran surfer, Rep. Brian P. Bilbray (R-San Diego), thinks it is getting out of hand and needs to be stopped.
"As a local in Imperial Beach, we'd joke about guys from Chula Vista surfing I.B.," said Bilbray, just before leaving on a surf vacation in Baja California with champion Mike Doyle. "But what is really frustrating is when you see what's going on now. It's fascism on the water."
Bilbray would like to see police with surfing experience go undercover to catch "some of these localism punks" in action.
"The good thing about being on the water is that you leave all the uptight attitudes on the shore," he said. "What we've got now is the aquatic version of gangs and their territorial battles."
In Palos Verdes Estates, Police Chief Gary Johansen thinks that a half a dozen arrests and convictions would break the back of localism at Lunada Bay. Although he does not advocate it, he also thinks that it might help if somebody really stood up to the Bay Boys.
"These kids grow up in a very, very sheltered environment," he said. "They don't know what a bad guy really is."
If localism has an anthem, it might be "Locals Only" by the Surf Punks, a rock band from the late 1970s and early 1980s that did whimsical, satiric takes on the Southern California surf lifestyle:
"We went down to Diego
for the big waves for to see
When I got into the water
those boys threw rocks at me
and screamed 'Locals Only!"'
In "The Surfin'ary: A Dictionary of Surfing Terms and Surfspeak," surfer Trevor Cralle defines localism as "territorial defiance in defense of a surf spot." His secondary definition of localism is even more direct: "when surfers who frequently ride the same surf break are jerks to those who don't."
"The Surfin'ary," only slightly tongue in cheek, notes that the first example of localism may have occurred in 1779 when angry Hawaiians killed Capt. James Cook at Kealakekua Bay.