Undercurrent of Violence : County Officials Restrict Surfing Competitions at Beach in Malibu in Wake of Beating


Hoping to head off more fisticuffs among surfers, Los Angeles County officials have decided to limit the number of surfing contests at Malibu's Surfrider Beach and require the presence of sheriff's deputies and lifeguards during competitions.

The steps came in response to an incident in September in which a longboard surfer and the father of another competitor allegedly beat a man riding a knee board during the Oxbow Longboard World Championships at Surfrider Beach. The victim had refused to leave the competition area, where the contests were held on three successive weekends.

"There was a problem there, and we had to look at it," said Ken Johnson, chief of community services for the Department of Beaches and Harbors. "Essentially, what we decided to do was not issue more than two permits a month at Surfrider Beach and never on two consecutive weekends."

Surfing event organizers will also be required to hire lifeguards and deputies for water safety and crowd control, the number to be determined by county officials for each event, Johnson said.

The requirement could cost event organizers up to $3,000 for world-class events that last two days. Deputies cost an average of $40 an hour; county lifeguards cost about $35 hourly.

But members of amateur surfing clubs who use Surfrider Beach for their events said they should not have to suffer because of one high-profile brawl.

"For the most part, all the events run down there go off without a hitch, and that one incident was an isolated event," said Kirby Kotler, a member of Malibu Boardriders Club, a group of 250 that holds three amateur surfing contests a year. Proceeds from the contests go to McDonald's Corp.'s Camp Ronald McDonald for Good Times, a free summer program for children with cancer.

"We are a not-for-profit surf club, and we don't feel it is necessary for us to have a sheriff and lifeguard," Kotler said. "The cost . . . will take away from our donations to Camp Good Times."

Officials said the policy must be applied across the board to be fair.

"It's all about economics--supply and demand," said Lifeguard Capt. Steve Saylors. He said that the surf was the best it had been all season on the day of the beating and that tensions were high because contests had been monopolizing the spot for two weeks previous.

"If everything calms down between professionals and amateurs, then we can do away with (the changes)," Saylors added.

There are probably a half-dozen fights reported at Surfrider Beach each year, he said.

Traditionally, contest organizers hire surfers to clear the contest area of non-competitors by asking them to leave. But because the ocean is for public use and the state Constitution prohibits anyone from "excluding the right of way to such water," a water patrol by surfers has no real authority.

Four members of the Malibu Boardriders Club were hired to patrol the Oxbow World Longboard Championships on Sept. 27, the day that local surfer Richard P. Ernsdorf, 45, was beaten.

Scott Hubbell, whose Scott Hubbell Productions promoted and ran the event, said the water patrol was clearing surfers from a different area when the beating occurred at the spot where the contest was about to start.

Joseph David Tudor, 45, the father of competitor Joel Tudor, has said that he decided to take matters into his own hands when the water patrol, which was about 250 yards away, failed to remove Ernsdorf. Competitor Lance Henry Hookano, 35, then joined in the beating, police said.

The elder Tudor pleaded not guilty to a felony charge of assault earlier this week.

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