Clint Warner, an Ocean Beach surfer who learned to deal with locals living in Hawaii, brings a screwdriver when he’s surfing a new spot. Before he paddles out, he slams the screwdriver into a wooden pole, or into the ground, to show the locals “I have an attitude.” Warner said that he’s never had a problem in San Diego.
The most heavily localized of all the San Diego surf spots are the breaks that have not become overcrowded. Once the number of surfers exceeds a certain level — say, an average of 30 on a big- surf day — localism fades away. There are simply too many new surfers to intimidate, too many people to chase away. Breaks like Black’s Beach and the Ocean Beach Jetty, though once heavily localized, are now open to anybody.
But spots like Windansea and the difficult-to-reach Newbreak south of Ocean Beach are still disputed. The locals still feel as if they need to protect their turf.
Locals are upset by more than just the crowds. Most violent localism “has to do with people who are in over their heads, and they are a danger to themselves and others,” said Jim Neri, a 43- year-old La Jolla resident and lifetime surfer. “They are being told, ‘Go surf somewhere you can learn.’”
“A lot of people paddle out and think they can just drop in because they can stand up,” said Chip, a Cardiff local and lifetime surfer. But beginners don’t know the rules of the wave — that a surfer must respect the elders and follow the wave etiquette. “There is a pecking order,” Chip said, “that beginners don’t understand.”
“The person closest to the peak has the wave,” said Jim Neri. “It should be common sense. The person in front should either pull back or kick out. And there should be respect out there. If you paddle out at a new place, you wait for the pack to catch their wave.” Surfers who don’t follow the rules are “a real danger to them- selves and to others.”
San Diego lifeguard lieutenant Brent Bass said that the lifeguards receive many more calls to treat surfing- related injuries than to respond to harassment by locals. “We see a lot of head in- juries and facial lacerations,” Bass said. “Usually what gets hit is what is sticking out of the water, and that is your head. The leash on the board acts like a big rubber band, and the board gets traveling really fast.”
As violent as it can sometimes be, “[localism] is also beneficial,” said Matt Walker, editor at Surfing magazine. Locals keep an eye on their own beach, using their trained aggression — the crowding, heckling, and intimidation — to make sure beginners don’t get in over their heads and saving them when they do.
“A lot of good things come out of [the localism at] Windansea,” said Dephilippis. “We organize surf contests for the kids...we sponsor beach cleanups,” he said. “I don’t want you to think that every time you come down to Windansea you’ll get beat up, because that’s not true.”
“The new localism is one of stewardship,” said Jim Neri. “Being aggressive is not cool anymore. I think [locals attracted to violence] are living in the past. And I think they are going to get left behind.