"Surfing is not a crime."
That's what 11-time Assn. of Surfing Professionals champ Kelly Slater tweeted when he found out last month that 40-year-old Rex Flodstrom was arrested by Chicago police for — wait for it — surfing off the shores of Lake Michigan.
Flodstrom was charged with disorderly conduct, two counts of violating a Chicago Park District ordinance and one count of being in the park after park hours. He was handcuffed and taken to jail in his wetsuit.
When the news got out, Slater was outspoken and expressed he might go to Chicago and attend Flodstrom's court appearance, which takes place Thursday, in a show of support. Whether or not Slater shows up, Flodstrom will have supporters, among them Laguna Beach's James Pribram.
Pribram travels the world as part of his Eco-Warrior Project, usually to support and initiate cleanup and conservation efforts on beaches and in the ocean. But when he heard about Flodstrom's arrest, he traded tweets with Slater and their Twitter followers urged them to go to Chicago.
"In all of my projects with the Eco-Warrior Project initiative, I have never gone to court, never experienced something like this," Pribram said earlier this week as he packed for Chicago. "In this day and age to be arrested for surfing like that is insane.
"It's one thing to get a ticket for surfing. There are places in California, Orange County, Laguna Beach where in the summer months you can't surf, so if someone crosses the line, you get a ticket. But here's a guy who got arrested and they wouldn't let him change out of his wetsuit. He's in jail for hours in a wet wetsuit. I think that's harsh."
Pribram said he doesn't know what to expect at Thursday's court date, but said he does expect a lot of media, and it might be huge if Slater shows up. Pribram, though, said he isn't looking to make a scene.
"I've spoken to a lot of the guys," Pribram said, referring to members of Chicago's Surfrider Foundation chapter who are expected to show up. "And I made it clear that I'm not the guy holding a sign in protest. I'm not the guy making a spectacle. I certainly don't want to embarrass the sport of surfing.
"I'm going there to support a fellow surfer and find a resolution to what's happened, and going forward, find a better compromise for something like this."
Pribram and surfing in Chicago have a history. He led the efforts just three years ago to lift a 20-year ban on surfing Lake Michigan, which came about from a tragic drowning accident involving three young girls and an inflatable raft. As a result, all flotation devices were banned, including surfboards.
"I know what it's about to keep the public safe, but it's extreme to arrest someone and take them to jail, and on top of it, not let him change out of his wetsuit," Pribram said. "That's crazy. We're talking about a guy who was surfing; we're not talking about a guy who robbed a bank. Give the guy a ticket and be done with it."
In 2009, Pribram and others worked with the city of Chicago and got surfing legalized in four spots: Montrose Avenue Beach, 57th Street Beach, Kathy Osterman Beach and Rainbow Beach. Flodstrom was arrested at Oak Street Beach.
"I've worked with the city, and they were more than compromising; they were respectful and polite," he said. "I think we can find a better compromise and resolution to this matter. I don't want to see more people getting arrested for surfing."
Pribram got involved in 2008 after the arrest of surfer Jack Flynn. At the time, Pribram was in Michigan filming a TV show for Fuel TV. After hearing of Flynn's arrest, he made the trip to Chicago.
"[Flynn] spent most of the night in jail, in his wetsuit, and his cellmate was someone who robbed a bank," Pribram said. "He was on the South Side and they let him out at 2 in the morning, and he had to run home in his wetsuit. So I went to meet the guy, and it all started from there."
After Thursday's court hearing, Pribram and others will go to Montrose Avenue Beach for a paddleout after first cleaning up the beach. If conditions permit, they'll surf.
"I plan on surfing, which is kind of scary because I thought it was cold yesterday in Laguna," Pribram cracked. "I hope the Chicago surfers don't laugh at me when I'm crying because it's so cold. I heard it was 32 degrees a couple days ago with snow on the beach."
Pribram said Slater is getting ready to open up the ASP World Tour title race when the new season begins Feb. 25 on the Gold Coast in Queensland, Australia. For the past couple of years, Slater has hinted at retiring, but his success keeps him going. He's won the past two ASP World Tour crowns and five in the past seven years.
"I think he's going to Australia with the intention of doing his best, and if he gets off to a good start, which he normally does, he'll go for it," Pribram said. "He finds interesting things to motivate him. My personal belief is he won his first title in 1992, and here we are 20 years later in 2012. To win his 12th title would be the icing on the cake."
JOE HAAKENSON is an Orange County-based sports writer and editor. He may be reached at email@example.com.