Wave of Violence : Surfer Says He Was Assaulted During World-Class Competition at Malibu Beach


It had all the makings of a world-class event. Surfing legends Mickey Dora flew in from South Africa, Buffalo Ke’aulana from Hawaii and Greg Noll from Crescent City were there. Chumash Native Americans gathered around a fire to bless the competition, tossing sage into the flames.

But instead of showcasing the glory of longboard surfing, the competition held last week at Malibu’s Surfrider Beach offered an unexpected look at the sport’s sometimes violent underside.

Not long after organizers of the Oxbow World Longboard Championships asked non-competitors to leave the water, a surfer who failed to do so was allegedly beaten by a world-ranked competitor and another competitor’s father.


The incident left 43-year-old Richard Ernsdorf with head trauma, bleeding about the eyes, a separated shoulder and facial cuts that required 15 stitches.

It has also left the surfing world abuzz. This week everyone from local surf rats to the editor of one of the sport’s preeminent magazines were talking about the incident.

“I find it excruciatingly embarrassing,” said Nick Carroll, editor of Surfing magazine, adding that surfers are usually on their best behavior at events. “I guarantee you that quite a few surfers are hanging their heads in shame. I don’t know of a world-class surfer that would have behaved that way.”

Ernsdorf, a resident of the San Fernando Valley community of Sun Valley, is pressing assault charges against his alleged attackers--Joseph Tudor, the father of world-ranked longboard surfer Joel Tudor, and Lance Hookano, a renowned longboarder from Hawaii.

“I was pretty well tumbled,” said Ernsdorf, who had been surfing since 5:30 a.m. “I was almost drowned. . . . What I worry about is, will my kids get beat up by other surfers because of this?”

Accounts of the incident vary. According to the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department and county lifeguards, it occurred sometime after 8 a.m. Sept. 27, the final day of the weeklong event, when Ernsdorf was sitting in the water on his kneeboard, a very short surfboard designed for riding while kneeling.

After a contest announcer asked non-participants to leave the water, Tudor, 43, stroked out on a paddleboard and told Ernsdorf to return to shore. A splash fight ensued, and Tudor hit Ernsdorf in the face, authorities say. Tudor disputes this, contending that Ernsdorf threw the first punch. But he admits that he held Ernsdorf under water for “what seemed like 20 to 30 seconds.”

Hookano, 34, arrived on a paddleboard and began hitting Ernsdorf repeatedly in the head and face, according to police reports. Hookano could not be reached for comment.

Scott Hubbell, the organizer of the event and a part-time lifeguard, pulled Ernsdorf to shore with the help of a lifeguard who was on duty. Ernsdorf was treated at the Santa Monica Hospital emergency room.

The competition, sanctioned by the Assn. of Surfing Professionals, drew 87 surfers from as far as Japan and Brazil.

Hookano, who is from Oahu, won fourth place and $1,500. Graham Stapelberg, chief financial officer of the association, said no rules exist that would have allowed immediate disqualifications.

Joseph Tudor’s son, Joel, won third place and $2,000.

Ernsdorf filed assault charges with the Sheriff’s Department later that day. The case will be sent to the district attorney’s office to determine whether charges will be filed, said Sheriff’s Lt. Jim Glazar.

For Hubbell, whose company organized the event, and representatives of the Assn. of Surfing Professionals, the organization that sanctioned it, the fight besmirched the competition, which helps determine the world champion of longboarding.

“That is probably one of the ugliest scenes I’ve seen at an event between a non-competitor and a competitor,” said Stapelberg. “This one was of an extraordinary nature. Maximum fines ($1,000) will be levied and because the incident falls under the category of bringing the sport into disrepute, it will go before a review board.”

Stapelberg said Hookano could be suspended from competition for six months to a year.

Hubbell, who has produced more than 200 surfing competitions, said that tensions were high before the Surfrider Beach incident. Organized surf events had monopolized the beach for the previous three weeks, and the waves were head-high due to a south swell--as good as they had been all summer.

For many, frustration did not excuse last week’s violence.

“This was disgusting,” said Tom Nefcy, 40, a surfer who had just gotten out of the water when the incident occurred. “These guys are supposed to be the Michael Jordans of our sport. . . .”