Surfside along the northernmost coastline at Seal Beach. Early afternoon on an idyllic July day in Southern California. A nice breeze blows in off the water. Life is good.
A thought strikes:
What manner of gnarly dude could possibly find a reason to pick a fight on days like this?
Yet, it's happening. Behaving more like the Earps and the Clantons at the OK Corral than like laid-back SoCal sun worshipers, the surfers and windsurfers around here have been squaring off over a small patch of ocean where the San Gabriel River meets the Pacific.
Windsurfers--the people who can't decide if they want to surf or go sailing--say this section of coastline is fantastic for their pastime. Surfers say the windsurfers are intruders in paradise.
So, when surfers see the windsurfers "rigging up" in the greensward just off the beach, they let them know they're not welcome. The windsurfers, who come from near and far to cavort in this special corner, don't take kindly to it.
Yesterday afternoon, a lone windsurfer was holding the fort. He was Mike Morrison of Anaheim Hills, who had a small window of opportunity to windsurf--if the wind would just kick up.
Morrison looks every bit the quintessential aging beach boy--still good-looking at 47, with wavy blond hair and sun-bleached skin. He says the dispute between the two groups is a shame but says the surfers need to give in.
"If you look up and down the coast from Ventura to the Mexican border, there are two places for windsurfers to go, Cabrillo and Seal Beach," he said. "Those are the only places that have any waves to ride."
Besides that, Morrison said, windsurfers need precise conditions--winds of at least 15 knots--and those conditions only exist for a couple of hours each day in midafternoon. As windsurfers see it, surfers should be willing to give up a couple of hours on select days when the wind is right.
Instead, Morrison said, a friend of his got a ticket for windsurfing in the river mouth area. The rationale is that windsurfers, because of the high speeds they can build up with their sails, pose a danger.
Morrison conceded that. He'd rather not have surfers around while he's windsurfing, but only because of the potential for them to get hurt. A surfer himself (he had spent the morning surfing at San Onofre and Trestles), Morrison says surfers ought to be willing to compromise.
In the prevailing culture of the Golden State, that's like asking people to quit driving for two hours a day.
I talked to a few surfers and none said they're that upset with the windsurfers. However, parking lot attendant and neutral party Ben Pennacchio says the surfer mentality is that windsurfers are an inferior breed of sportsman. Interlopers, as it were.
Melanie Slagle showed up to surf the same day Morrison showed up to windsurf. She's 27 and lives in San Pedro. "I think it's silly, to be honest," she said of the dispute. Windsurfers need a good breeze to do their thing, and stiff breezes tend to stifle good surfing, Slagle said.
Logic would dictate, she said, that the two groups can co-exist.
The standoff is now before the Seal Beach City Council, which seems unsure what to do.
I don't surf or windsurf, so I'm either perfectly qualified or utterly unqualified to judge, depending on your point of view.
But as I strolled the beach, drank in the sun and sought inspiration for solving this most vexing of public policy issues, I wanted to shout to the two sides:
Get a grip!
Fighting over the "rights" to one of life's great pleasures seems to be taking self-indulgence to extremes, even by California standards.
I propose the following: shut down the stretch of beach to everyone until the two groups reach an agreement.
If that is done, I predict an agreement would be reached in, oh, about 10 minutes.
In the meantime, Morrison said he's tired of being verbally assaulted when he windsurfs. "It kind of bums out your day."
Dude, I hear you. In fact, I wished him luck as I left.
But as if to put the problem into perspective, he conceded that if windsurfers continue to get drummed off the beach, "I'll always have surfing!"
Dana Parsons' column appears Wednesday, Friday and Sunday. Readers may reach Parsons by calling (714) 966-7821 or by writing to him at the Times Orange County Edition, 1375 Sunflower Ave., Costa Mesa, CA 92626, or by e-mail to: email@example.com