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Turfing Safari : Outsiders Confront Locals Over a Bit of the Treasured Shore

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Dude! It’s like they say in real estate--location, location, location.

So a bunch of South Bay surfers trucked down to Lunada Bay on Sunday afternoon, vowing to “take back the bay” from the locals who surf there regularly.

In aged Rambler station wagons and shiny new Toyota 4Runners, they formed a caravan half a mile long that snaked down the shore from Torrance toward the bay in Palos Verdes Estates.

At the picturesque horseshoe cliff, they scrambled out, many with boards and wax in hand, to assess the deep green ocean about 200 feet below.

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There was no swell. And the kelp beds were especially thick. So no one went into the water, but they were eager to plunge in the hot water of the surf turf wars.

The 75 or so outsiders--meaning even people from such nearby communities as Hermosa, Manhattan and Redondo beaches--went face to face with about 100 locals who had gathered to meet them, so both sides could air their grievances over the issue of “localism” at the bay, where winter waves attract surfers from around the world.

Sunday’s confrontations were loud, prolonged and well covered by the news media but settled nothing. And everyone stayed dry. Nonetheless, the outsiders’ organizer called the event a symbolic success.

“This was all about people standing up and saying, ‘We’re not going to take it anymore,’ ” said Geoff Hagins, 40, of Torrance, a plumber and surfer.

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The phenomenon known as “localism"--where surfers at a particular beach, or “break,” do their best to harass outsiders into leaving--is actually decades old. It’s well-known on both coasts, at the Gulf Shore and in Hawaii, with harassment ranging from verbal threats to vandalism of outsiders’ cars.

But perhaps only in California would it generate not only headlines but a lawsuit.

In July, a group of South Bay surfers, including Hagins, filed a civil suit in Los Angeles Superior Court alleging that locals had engaged in assaults, vandalism, harassment “and other terrorist-like activities.”

The suit also names the city of Palos Verdes Estates as a defendant, saying city officials have known for more than two decades about the activities of a group of local surfers known as “the Bay Boys” but have done little to stop them.

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But there are lawsuits and there are wetsuits, so Hagins and a group of supporters opted Sunday to go on this surfing safari--to head to Lunada Bay in what Steve Fisher, 34, of Manhattan Beach called a “show of force.”

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“I’ve been surfing South Bay beaches for 21 years and always felt threatened by the Lunada Bay locals,” said Fisher, a graphics designer, as supporters gathered before the faceoff in a beachside parking lot in Torrance.

“I plan to surf nude,” said Erika Cowell, a Hermosa Beach actress who said that her stage name is “Love.” She said she intended to shed her dusty pink lace dress and silver heels for the sea: “There’s freedom at the beach. [The ocean] is big and awesome and ominous and beautiful.”

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Waiting at the cliff overlooking Lunada Bay were the locals--and eight Palos Verdes Estates police officers, each on overtime at an average of $25 per hour, according to Lt. Ed Jaakola. “This is a non-event that’s costing us a lot of money,” Police Chief Gary Johansen said.

It quickly became obvious that surfing was not to be. Instead, as television cameras rolled, Hagins’ supporters carried a fully clothed Cowell onto the cliff aboard a green and white longboard, like Cleopatra on a litter.

A crowd gathered around as she reclined on her stomach, elbows on the waxy board, silver high heels raised. She tried to mediate from atop the surfboard: “The ocean is huge. It’s enormous. You’re arguing over something so enormous. I’m saying surfers are for peace.”

But locals and outsiders traded jibes.

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“I like to wake up in the morning, go surf and not deal with jerks like you,” said Jason Gersch, 17, of Torrance.

“Hey, guess what?” replied a 17-year-old local who declined to give his name. “I went down to Torrance and I almost got my [rear] kicked. I got pushed. I got threatened.”

The crowd dispersed about half an hour later, when Jaakola announced that a bomb threat had been phoned in to police.

“Let’s wait for some waves this winter and come back again,” Hagins cried to supporters. “We’ll do it all over again then.”

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