Two surfers were convicted Wednesday of battering a third during a competition last year in Malibu, concluding a two-week trial that exposed the seething rivalries that sometimes boil beneath the surface of a sport many perceive as a peaceful communion with nature.
A Superior Court jury in Malibu found both Lance Hookano, a world-renowned long-board surfer, and Joseph Tudor, the father of another top surfer, guilty of felony assault and battery.
Both men were captured on videotape last September, during a heat of the Oxbow Longboard World Championships at Surfrider Beach, as they violently ejected amateur surfer Richard Ernsdorf from the competition area.
Hookano, 34, and Tudor, 44, face a maximum of seven years in prison at their sentencing, scheduled in October. But Deputy Dist. Atty. Phillip Stirling said that, because the two men have no criminal records, it is more likely that he will request probation and, perhaps, short jail terms.
The intense, auburn-haired Hookano and the stocky, gray-haired Tudor appeared stunned when the verdicts were read late Wednesday. Tudor’s wife rushed out of the courtroom. Neither defendant commented on the verdicts.
Ernsdorf said in a telephone interview from his home in the San Fernando Valley that the convictions were “a great decision by the people of California.
“I’m very happy this came out the way it did,” said Ernsdorf, a tile contractor nicknamed “Shark” after surfing for more than 30 years at Malibu. “People from all walks of life agreed that this was wrong.”
Inside and outside the courtroom, spectators and witnesses had discussed tensions that sometimes plague surfing--ranging from fights over waves to bad blood between locals and outsiders and snits between traditional surfers and those, like Ernsdorf, who ride shorter boards on their knees.
Ernsdorf conceded that he drifted into the competition area that day, just as a heat involving Tudor’s son was beginning. But he insisted he was drifting slowly out of the water when he was attacked, first by the elder Tudor and then by Hookano. A videotape showed both men paddling out to Ernsdorf and delivering a series of punches.
But the defense presented witnesses in an attempt to prove self-defense. They suggested that Ernsdorf lashed out first, with one of his swim fins or his hands, after he was asked to leave the water.
Some jurors said they felt Ernsdorf was aggressive, but they believed the two defendants had ample opportunity to let the episode de-escalate. Attorneys for both sides said the jury apparently spent most of two days of deliberations deciding whether the convictions should be felonies or misdemeanors. The felony verdicts were delivered after a finding that Ernsdorf suffered great bodily injury--a concussion, a separated shoulder and multiple cuts over his eyes.
Glenn Hening, a surf historian who watched much of the trial, called the verdict a vindication for “soul” surfers, the fraternity of wave riders who commune with the elements and other surfers for pure joy rather than for money.
“This verdict says, hey, we need to be a little bit more careful with this sport, which can be so delicate,” said Hening, also founder of a conservation and education organization called the Surfrider Foundation. “It says look what happens when we get carried away.”
Hookano, a Honolulu resident, finished fourth in that Malibu tournament. He has continued surfing on the 9-foot and longer boards that have been resuscitated recently as a specialty division of the sport. The sport’s governing body fined Hookano $1,000 after the attack, and he has lost most of his sponsors.
Joseph Tudor said during a break in the trial that he will have to sell his house because of legal bills and losses his contracting business has suffered. But his son, Joel, has emerged since the incident as one of the bright young stars of long-boarding. He won a tournament last month at Biarritz, France, then captured both the OP Pro title and the U.S. Open Championship this month in Orange County.