The target of the demonstration was a massive floating terminal proposed for about 14 miles off the coast by Australian mining giant BHP Billiton.
Until Sunday, the proposed site for the 13-story terminal was thought to be closer to Oxnard, a former farm town best known for years as the butt of jokes by late-night talk show host Johnny Carson.
But maps show the terminal would be nearly as close to Malibu's city line, and celebrities have adopted it as a local issue.
Halle Berry, Cindy Crawford, Dick Van Dyke, Ted Danson, Jane Seymour, Pierce Brosnan and others showed up at Malibu's Surfrider Beach on Sunday to lend their star power to the issue, giving it a brief, if fleeting, moment of international attention. Fans, paparazzi and television networks from as far away as Australia mobbed the celebrities as helicopters hovered.
Daryl Hannah, in a black wetsuit, drew attention by carrying a surfboard across the sand and joining several hundred surfers in a paddle-out protest. Once outside the breakers, the surfers arranged their boards to form a giant circle with a slash through the middle, the worldwide symbol for "prohibited."
"Finally, I'm getting people to pay attention to this issue," said Susan Jordan, director of the California Coastal Protection Network. "The goal was to send the governor a message: to terminate the terminal. His is the last voice that actually stops this terminal from being approved."
Jordan and others say the proposed terminal would contribute to Southern California's already smoggy skies, potentially harm marine life and use untested technology to warm the explosive gas and bring it onshore.
BHP Billiton has proposed a floating platform about the size of three football fields to unload tankers carrying natural gas from Asia and Australia that has been chilled into liquid form. The plant would warm the fuel and pipe it ashore to heat homes and businesses and generate electricity.
BHP Billiton's proposal has attracted the most attention because it's further along than those of other companies hoping to locate terminals in Long Beach Harbor or offshore locations between Long Beach and Oxnard.
Sempra Energy Co. is moving the fastest in the high-stakes race to corner the market, with a half-built plant just south of the border in Mexico.
Beside the celebrities that hit the beach Sunday, other famous Malibu residents — including Barbra Streisand, Cher, Jamie Lee Curtis, Danny DeVito, Tom Hanks, Olivia Newton John and Martin Sheen — have signed a letter opposing the terminal that says it "poses significant and potentially irreversible negative impacts to our coast, our environment and to the health and safety of our families . "
A spokesman for BHP Billiton could not be reached for comment Sunday.
"The governor has not yet taken a position on any specific offshore natural gas terminal," said Darrel Ng, a spokesman for Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. He is awaiting the outcome of various studies, Ng said, that put "each project through rigorous environmental and safety checks."