Since the mid 1950s, Swami's surf break in Encinitas has been at the center of Southern California surfing. The right point break, known for long rides and clean conditions, has carried some of the world's best surfers, from Rusty Miller in the ’60s to many of today's professional surfers such as Joel Tudor and Rob Machado. But last July, when Linda Benson, president of the Women's World Longboard Championship, proposed holding a four-day championship contest at Swami's on October 14 of next year, the world-class surf break turned from a center for Southern California surf culture to a center of controversy.
Debate in the community has swelled in recent months. Those opposed to the contest, which, if allowed, would be the first contest to be held at Swami's in 42 years, say the contest would set precedent and would entice other promoters to hold contests at Swami's. They believe the large crowds, the negative environmental impact to the delicate sandstone bluff, and the fact that local surfers would be banished from the break on those days, are all reasons the contest shouldn't be allowed.
The rising tide of emotions from those in opposition has led residents to draft a petition to prevent the city from granting a permit. So far, 290 residents have signed that petition. Their goal is to reach 10,000.
"What is the upside?" asks the online petition, before answering: "A promoter makes some money, and the City of Encinitas promotes tourism.... Stop surfing contests at Swamis -- for God's sake -- is nothing sacred?"
Linda Benson agrees the break is sacred. In fact, that's the reason why she wants to hold the contest at Swami's. Benson, born and raised in Encinitas, started surfing at Swamis back in 1955, when she was 11 years old. Benson acknowledges the concerns from those in opposition. She says those concerns are what prompted her to think up ways to ease the impact on the popular surf break and organize a contest that is different than most professional competitions.
"I knew that we have to do something totally different than any other contest has done in order to make this okay," says Benson during a November 6 phone interview.
Benson proposes closing the parking lot and routing cars to Moonlight Beach where fans can walk to the contest or catch a shuttle to a small festival at K Street. Other changes include using smaller scaffolds for the judges, placing flat screens on the grass area near the parking lot instead of using loud speakers, and anchoring a boat, equipped with speakers, outside the break so that contestants can hear the announcers.
In addition to those changes, Benson intends to donate some of the proceeds to the Keep A Breast Foundation and some to San Diego Coastkeeper.
"If this happens,” says Benson, “we [intend] to raise the bar to such a high caliber that most promoters won't want to hold a contest there unless they are willing to make the same types of changes."
To read the petition, go to thepetitionsite.com/1/stop-surfing-contests-at-swamis. To read Benson's proposal, visit thepetitionsite.com/86/support-the-womens-world-longboard-championships-at-swamis.
(Representatives from Swami's Surfing Association failed to respond to this correspondent’s request for comment.)