Beach bums Kelvin Soltani and Logan MacPherson never stop searching for the perfect one-liner to meet girls.
"It's easy," said MacPherson, 20. "Just go up to them and say, 'So what part of the Valley are you from?' You got them right there."
These two best friends from Burbank speak from experience, nestled in their familiar tanning spot on Zuma Beach between lifeguard towers 6 and 7. "Ever since I can remember," said Soltani, 19, "this has been the place where Valley people meet--just see each other between 6 and 7."
Indeed, hundreds of San Fernando Valley residents basked in the sunshine nearby, squeezed together as if the rest of the beach were off limits. They know their territory--Zuma, Topanga State Beach, Paradise Cove, Cross Creek--and they know the rules: frozen yogurt comes from Penguins, lunch means chips and colas, and one-piece bathing suits are something someone wears somewhere else.
Zuma, with its smooth sand, convenient parking, high-rolling waves and abundant offerings of the opposite sex, stands alone in popularity.
"It's Zuma," MacPherson said simply.
MacPherson and Soltani, who will both attend UC Berkeley in the fall, are majoring in tanning over the summer. By 10 a.m. almost every day, they're already parked in prime position to catch rays and catch glances at the daily parade of bikinis. Zuma is more than a beach to them; it's a drama.
"Something is always happening here," Soltani said. "You should see this place when there's so many people you can't walk. The music will be blasting, and people will be launching water balloons. It's so entertaining."
And they say it's free of the harassment that Valley visitors sometimes receive from so-called locals--beach-goers from the Westside--at other spots.
Rachel Wilson, 15, of Calabasas and her friend, Kristy Towers, 15, of Woodland Hills, often take the special summer bus down Topanga Canyon Boulevard to Pacific Coast Highway to spend the afternoon at Topanga State Beach. They say they also take a lot of abuse.
"We were waiting for the bus the other day when all these surfers starting yelling at us: 'Go back to the Valley,' " Wilson said. "They all hate us, I guess 'cause they think we're stealing their beach."
The surfers at Topanga State Beach, for the most part, weren't anxious to defend their territory in print. Except for one, who preferred to remain anonymous.
"If they're not going to surf here," said the surfer, "they don't belong here. Let them go to their malls."
This attitude doesn't frighten anyone away. Wilson said many teen-agers hang out at Topanga because the bus--it costs 20 cents each way--conveniently drops them off a few hundred feet away, and they can't find rides to Zuma or Malibu. (The bus originates at Parkway Calabasas and Calabasas Road and ends up at Topanga Canyon Boulevard and Pacific Coast Highway.)
Wilson already considers herself an expert on the beach scene and was all too happy to lay out the ins and outs. Her first speech focused on food.
"Everybody gets large Cokes with ice," Wilson said. "You must know that. At Malibu, everyone runs out to the Jack-in-the-Box or the Pizza Hut. And Penguins is where everyone goes for frozen yogurt. Vanilla and coffee are favorites, unless they have peanut butter, and then it's gone real quickly. And everyone gets brownies on top."
Otherwise, the food options are limited. The hamburgers and hot dogs at nearby snack shops, according to beach-goers, don't exactly titillate the senses. And, besides, they don't do much for the teen-age budget.
"The food is too expensive," Towers said. "If you spend a few dollars here every day, you'll have nothing left."
So the alternative for many is to bring sandwiches, chips, fruit and purchase any other cheap items--mostly soft drinks--at a small market across Pacific Coast Highway. "We sell a lot of Cokes," said the market's owner, Ray Craig. "We like all those Valley kids coming down the hill."
For her next discourse, Wilson chose shopping. Although she said it's fun to browse through stores near the beach, especially the "rad bikini" shops in Malibu, the only real merchandise up for grabs doesn't come with a definitive price tag.
"Guys, of course," Wilson answered when questioned about the true purpose of beach browsing. "I'm here to get a tan, but if you're going to get a tan, why not have it be with guys too? We don't come here to meet people from school who we already know. We come here to meet new people."
She saved her last speech for a roundup of area beaches.
"Well, Topanga is really cool 'cause the sand is good and we have the bus," she said. "But then there's the sand in Malibu, which is so white and beautiful. And there are more cars in Malibu."
"Come on, cars are great fun. You can watch and see the people in their convertibles," she said.
Sami Bahmanyar, 16, of Woodland Hills and Ann Lim, 15, were too busy watching guys on their surfboards to worry about cars. Hanging out at Topanga, they analyzed the art of boy and girl watching at the beach.
"The classic move if guys want to talk to you is they ask for suntan lotion," Bahmanyar said. "Then they start talking to you, see you a few more times at the beach and you get to know them."
Another popular move, said Julie Louis, 15, of Thousand Oaks, is "for guys to turn their blankets toward you and put their sunglasses on. They stare at you, and they think you don't know they're looking at you."
At Zuma, David Kriz, 16, of Simi Valley, who called himself "Disco Dave," made a none-too-subtle pitch for Julie. On a recent afternoon, he even left a note on her towel that said: "You weren't here, so I wanted to say goodby and you looked nice. I'll call you tonight."
Disco Dave did, and Julie said later that she got him off the phone as quickly as possible. She told him that she wouldn't be at the beach the next day because she was going to Magic Mountain. But she was at Zuma, and he saw her.
"I think he's mad," she said.
Only a little. Disco Dave said he'd try with her again and again until he succeeded--just another Zuma subplot in the real-life daily soap under the sun.
Soltani and MacPherson make sure that they're stuck on the beach all summer. Happily unemployed, they spend every day at Zuma. Said Soltani: "It's not often enough."
Like so many others, they play people-watching games. A new social classification system has been set up among the regulars at Zuma: "posers," people who only go to the beach to be seen and really don't belong there; "trippers," people who seem to wander from one end of the beach to another handing out flyers or just looking aimless, and "outcasts," people who dress up in warm clothing and never take them off.
"Between six and seven," MacPherson said, "anything can happen."