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The Waves Are for Everyone

February 26, 2002

When legendary surfer John "Doc" Ball founded the Palos Verdes Surfing Club in 1935, the club's creed, displayed between a set of shark jaws in his Los Angeles dental office, included a pledge to "strive to conduct myself as a club member and a gentleman, so help me God."

Times have changed.

Today some Palos Verdes surfers belong to the Dirty Underwear Gang or the Bad Boys and act like jerks, not gentlemen. Many live in multimillion-dollar homes that didn't yet exist in Ball's day, and their greedy credo is: If you don't live here, don't surf here. These pampered punks vandalize cars and throw rocks and sometimes punches at "outsiders" who dare set board to wave along the Palos Verdes coast. Forget the romantic notion of a brotherhood of riders searching for the perfect wave. Theirs is the newer Southern California convention of exclusivity enforced through intimidation, never mind that the piece of paradise they view as their own gated community belongs to the public.

Thirty years ago residents of this bluff-side community supported Save Our Coastline, the campaign that led to state laws guaranteeing public access to beaches. Some residents' enthusiasm faltered in the translation from principle to practice.

For the Record
Los Angeles Times Monday March 4, 2002 Home Edition California Part B Page 10 Metro Desk 1 inches; 16 words Type of Material: Correction; Editorial
Surf wars-An editorial Tuesday misstated the name of a Palos Verdes Estates surfer clique. It is called the Bay Boys.

Great "breaks" across the world suffer from localism, but in the last decade the Palos Verdes Peninsula has developed a reputation for being among the most hostile surfing areas. The brawl between locals and outsiders described by Times reporter Kenneth R. Weiss in Sunday's Times is just the latest example.

Six years ago a group of South Bay surfers filed a civil lawsuit against local surfers and the city of Palos Verdes Estates, which, the suit alleged, knew about but did little to stop assaults, vandalism and harassment. The parties settled. The effect of the lawsuit can be seen in stepped-up efforts by the Palos Verdes Estates police to crack down on intimidation by running undercover stings and mounting an Internet camera as a crime deterrent.

Whether city officials take the problem seriously enough--some argue they do not--will be tested by how they stand up to local surfers' efforts to have the "surf cam" taken down and to limit parking on public streets to residents with permits; these demands amount to bullying attempts at turf protection.

Doc Ball, who died in December at 94 (he had moved to Eureka and traded surfboard for skateboard), once estimated that when he took up the sport 70 years ago he shared the entire California coastline with perhaps 50 other surfers. Today there can be almost that many on a single wave. Palos Verdes' spoiled young men are going to have to learn to share.

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