Territorial surfers?

I’ve often heard that surfers can be very territorial and violent about keeping strangers off their favorite piece of beach. But I’ve never seen or heard anything first-hand so I was wondering if this is just an urban legend, or something that only happened in the 1950s…

Have you ever encountered (or were you) a territorial surfer? What happened?


By coincidence, I was browsing at lunch today and came across the Wikipedia page on Jaws, the beach and surf on/off Maui:

Also, in Dogtown and Z-Boys, someone mentions that surfers at Pacific Ocean Park in the '70s would harass non-Venice surfers, including one time when they took the carburetor off the car of someone who wouldn’t get out of the surf. The problem there was that the strangers didn’t know how to surf the piers under the park and would either cut off or run into the locals.

I have a colleague who surfs a lot but is in his sixties and came to surfing late, and is not part of the cool crowd. He says there are beaches on the Gold Coast in Queensland that are very “local” where outsiders definitely get hostility from locals. I haven’t heard him describe any actual violence or interference with property but certainly he has experienced verbal abuse and hostile looks

Surfing is unlike any other sport.

Surfers are entirely dependent on natural forces to provide them with a place to practice their sport. Just finding a beach usually does no good at all. The beach has to have just the right kind of bottom so that the waves break in a way that they can be ridden. But the biggest problem is the waves them selves. Waves are caused by storms and storms don’t happen ever day or even every week. And sometimes the waves generated by these storm send swells toward the beach at an angle that doesn’t produce “ride able” waves.

In other words, good surf is an unusual event. Even the best surfing beaches have good waves only about 100 days out of a year. The waves can be good for 2 or 3 days and then it can be weeks before the waves get good again. You might hear about surfers who claim to surf everyday, but just going out in the water and paddling around in 2 foot mush isn’t surfing.

All this causes big problems. Waves are meant to be ridden by one surfer at a time. And at most beached these waves all come in and break at the same place. When you have 20 surfers (or even 10!) waiting for a wave, you can imagine the problems. Some of these surfers come here every day and have been doing so even since they were 8 years old. They are there rain or shine, winter or summer and when the waves finally get good, they get pissed off when a bunch of surfers from who knows where come and try and take their waves.

ME? I quit. It just got too crowded, but I’d start again tomorrow if some one invented a machine that produced enough good waves that alleviated the crowds. There is NOTHING like riding inside a huge tube or even just riding a nice shoulder.

No personal experience but the word in the whitewater kayaking community is that surfers are hostile to kayakers that attempt to surf thier waves.

On second thought, I’ve read that more than once but maybe that’s not as universal as I made it sound above.

Interesting… thanks for the insights.

That was a great post! But reading between the lines - are you trying to say that you used to kick peoples’ ass before you quit? :slight_smile:

FWIW, last month a hung jury in Malibu let off, for now, Skylar Peak and Philip Hildebrand who were caught on film beating a French paparazzo who was trying to get a picture of Matthew McConaughey.

Granted, the victim and the other paparazzi were being supremely annoying by their very nature, but this excerpt from the article annoys the heck out of me:

You can have the beach. That’s very nice of them, isn’t it? I thought public beaches were for everybody. (Not all Malibu beaches are private and I’m assuming this one wasn’t, or if it was, Peak and Hildebrand didn’t hold title).

I know this isn’t the way most surfers are, and I know that the ire against paparazzi is well deserved, but this doesn’t sit well we me at all.

This makes me think surfer territoriality wasn’t much of an issue in the 1950s. Was there anyplace, in all of the United States, that was too crowded in the 1950s? We had only about 150M people in those days. All of California had just under 16M in the 1960 census, or just 7M more than Los Angeles County now.

When I think of what it must have been like to go to the beach in the 1950’s compared to now, it’s enough to make a grown man cry. Every beach is crowded now, and even more so, every road leading to every beach.

My friend got into a fight at Venice Beach. He was fishing, the surfer was surfing. We later met another surfer who surfs the area and he said the guy my friend fought with is an asshole and always looking to fight.

Surfers have almost always been nice to me when I’m fishing from the beach. We’re all doing our own thing and the only times we cross paths are when they’re going out or coming in.

Hey, I just found the videos of this incident (bad language within)

Sounds like “if you win, you can have the beach” was just an adlib and the surfers’ “victims” deserved it anyway.

If you shut up, mind your manners and respect the locals you shouldn’t have any trouble in my experience.

And avoid Oxnard.

Its funny that you thought that because after I read what I wrote, It DID seem like I might have done that!

But, no, my group of surfer friends never were like that. We started surfing in the early 60’s before it was too crowded. The fights started in the late 60’s at some of the better (and thus more crowded) surfing spots. It was the next generation of surfers that acted this way. They grew up fighting for every wave, After high school my friends and I moved to north San Diego County and had a “secret spot” to surf that was never crowded at least until the mid-70’s when I moved to Hawaii.

The outer Hawaiian Islands at that time had great surf and uncrowded waves, but I still got into fights because even 3 or 4 guys out at a surf break was too much for the locals who were haoles (white). Never had any trouble with the local Hawaiians.

I finally decided to quit surfing, so I sold my board and bought a one way ticket to Bangkok, Thailand just for something to do, but that’s another story.

Why’s that?

Malibu was crowded in the late 50’s, but surfing was different then. No one took it seriously. It was new. It was fun. There were people who surfed every day in the summer at Malibu, but they didn’t see themselves as locals in today’s sense. No one would think of telling some one to get out of the way. The good surfers just went around the new comers. Taking off in front of another surfer who was already riding the wave was commonplace and no one seemed to mind. This all changed by the mid 60’s at the premier surf spots like Malibu.

We’re not talking about crowded beaches. You can always find a place to lay your towel out. Waves, on the other hand, are one to a person and there are never enough waves and always too many surfers.


The problem is that minding your manners and respecting the locals means that you can surf “over there”. The thing is that the waves never break over there and if you come over here to surf, we will take off in front of you and generally make your so life miserable that you get out of the water, go home and never come back.

There aren’t even enough waves for the locals. How are you going to ask them to share an extremely rare commodity like a wave?

Oxnard is a surf spot north of Los Angeles, but no more notorious than a lot of other surf spot for local-ism.

Backcountry skiers have a bit of this kind of territoriality. The standard motto is “I won’t tell you, but I’ll show you where the hidden stash of powder is” but as more and more people want to use up the untracked snow that is suffering. I’ve heard rumors of some cars being vandalized out west when they weren’t “locals” at some isolated trailheads but I don’t know if it can be attributed to territoriality or just assholes.

Don’t know if anyone else recalls, but I seem to remember recently a news story about an older, local, beloved surfer dude guy in Santa Barbara, who got murdered by some gangbanger over some, I’m guessing, surf dispute. Apparently the old local surfer peace & love dude got the best of the original fight, but then the ganbanger went & got his posse, came back & stabbed the surfer dude & that was that.
Sorry I can’t provide a link, but I’m sure it’s not too hard to find. Just goes to show where the peace & commune with nature surfer thing sometimes seems to end up.
Very sad! :confused: