Easter's late, surf's down and spring break's a bust on the boardwalk

The sun shone brightly, but a cool breeze coming out of the west made it a comfortable 72 degrees on the first day of Easter week.

Usually, that would mean a horde of vacationing students storming the South Bay's beaches. But with Easter rather late this year, many colleges scheduled their spring vacations earlier.

So on Monday, Los Angeles County lifeguards said, only about 25,000 people visited South Bay beaches, about 15,000 fewer than last year. Most of them appeared to be high school and junior high students.

In one area, a group of guys from Redondo Union High School and Pacific Shores High School in Manhattan Beach were kicking back under the Hermosa Pier after a morning of surfing, their wet suits drying on an exposed pipe overhead.

"It was real glassy," said Geoff Cook, 17, of Redondo Beach, complaining about the morning's poor waves. "But I'd still rather be here than in school."

At the concrete foot of the pier, a group of younger boys sat on their skateboards, resting up after doing some tricks. They quietly peered over their shoulders at a Hermosa Beach police officer in a parked patrol car eyeing the crowd.

Above the boys was a sign that said, among other things, that performing dangerous tricks on skateboards is prohibited on the pier.

When they noticed the sign, the boys got into a somewhat heated discussion over whether the concrete area constituted part of the pier or whether they were free to continue skateboarding.

"I'm gonna skateboard," one boy boasted, although he didn't move.

"Not me," said another, "I'm not gonna let that cop give me a ticket."

The boys didn't move; neither did the officer.

Meanwhile, along The Strand, bikini-clad girls and shirtless boys skated or rode bikes. Others leaned against the low brick wall and watched the traffic go by.

Darting in and out of the traffic was 9-year-old James Ellis, whose family is visiting from Farnham Common, England. James, wearing knee and elbow pads, was taking his first stab at roller-skating.

"Where I come from there's nowhere to skate," he said "There's just lots of palaces and gardens."

After a few awkward steps, he stopped and leaned against the wall. He watched starry-eyed as other skaters glided by. James said he was in his third week of a monthlong spring break. He seemed surprised to learn that most American students get only a week off.

"It's lovely here," he said "It's nice and hot. The weather was dreadful in England when we left."

A little bit north along The Strand, three Redondo Beach teen-age girls were leaning against the wall. Two guys quickly joined them.

Samantha LaLiberte, 17, seemed almost bored as her friends talked and giggled. They had spent the morning skating and riding a bike along The Strand.

"I expected more people," she said, sounding somewhat disappointed.

Also disappointed, for the same reason, were Jose Perez, 24, of Torrance, and Patrick Chatelle, 23, of Long Beach. The two were sitting on wooden stools inside the Poop Deck bar, sipping beer while glancing out the window.

"It's not too good today," Perez said, obviously not referring to the weather. "Not too many pretty girls have gone by. I guess they are all in Palm Springs."

Chatelle put it more bluntly: "It's pretty dead."

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