The Best 5 Surf Spots in San Diego County

My son Israel at Sunset Cliffs.

My son Israel at Sunset Cliffs.

With our winter surf season over (it was middling at best, with no major swells) and spring upon us, a lot of us spend our days chasing waves up and down the county.

Luckily San Diego is blessed with a plethora of waves that work year-round and are considered some of the world’s best surf spots.

Please note—all of the areas mentioned are for experienced and respectful surfers only. Don’t expect to paddle out at any of these spots if you are not a local and an experienced surfer and catch the best waves. Please respect the locals and the sanctity of the lineup.

1. Black’s Beach. One of the world’s top beachbreaks, this jewel sucks in swells courtesy of the Scripps Submarine Canyon. Probably no other spot in San Diego County is as consistent, with as many good waves and surfers, as Black’s. The water is generally crystal clear and the clarity, shape and uniqueness of the waves reminds me of beaches in Australia.

Black’s is also one of the best places in San Diego County to spot bottlenose dolphins and just offshore is one of the most important locations for shark research in Southern California.  Thankfully, Black’s is now part of the San Diego-Scripps Coastal State Marine Conservation Area—a marine protected area.

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Gabriel Medina during the 2012 Nike Lowers Pro

2. Trestles. Guess what, Orange County—Trestles is really in San Diego County—so it is our spot! (I’m joking—I realize that the incredibly generous and very talented surfers from San Clemente and most of southern Orange County are nice enough to share this spot with surfers from San Diego and around the world).

This is a great improver spot and arguably the best place on a good southwest swell to see some of the world’s best surfers at the top of their game. I love surfing here despite the crowd and so do my kids.

This is about the best place to take your groms and their friends on a surfari in the county. Just remember that dreadful TCA still wants to plow a toll road through San Onofre State Beach.

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Gabriel Medina at Trestles during the 2012 Nike Lowers Pro.

3. Swami’s. On a big winter swells, Swami’s is the Sunset Beach of San Diego County. This amazing reef that is also now a marine protected area creates lined walls perfect for high-performance surfing.

The only problem is that it is very crowded with very good local surfers who dominate the lineup, so your chances of catching a good wave here are pretty limited.

4. Oceanside. This long stretch of beach offers up a variety of breaks—from the wave field south of the pier (and around it) to the opportunities around the pier and between the jetties. Oceanside, like Imperial Beach, is still a classic blue-collar and military surf town with a very talented crew of local surfers.

Generally you can count on the fact that Oceanside is bound to be bigger and breaking a little harder than just about every other spot in North County.

George field testing his designs. Photo courtesy of G. Gall

George field testing his designs. Photo courtesy of G. Gall

5. Sunset Cliffs. This fabled stunning stretch of coastline offers up a variety of waves for every type of surfer. It is generally always crowded with a crew of older guys on bigger boards who rip, but there is typically a slot or two for everyone. Please remember to respect the locals here.

There are a ton of other spots that offer up clean and consistent waves in San Diego County. The more you travel, the more waves you score and the more friends you make.

Especially if you have kids, surfing a variety of spots is the best way for them to improve their surfing and have the type of adventures that are the stuff of groms dreams.

A nice winter day at Sunset Cliffs.

A nice winter day at Sunset Cliffs.

Sea Otters May Return to Southern California

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A couple of weeks ago  the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service eliminated the “no-otter zone” in Southern California south of Point Conception in Santa Barbara County to allow the return of sea otters to the region.

Biologists will continue to monitor the population to see if sea otters migrate to Southern California.

I sat down with Jim Curland from the Friends of the Sea Otter to talk more about the type of environment needed to support sea otter populations and the the history of the animal in California.

Serge Dedina: Why should we care about sea otters?

Jim Curland: Sea otters are both keystone and sentinel species. Their keystone role is that they have a profound effect on the health of nearshore kelp forests.  When sea otters were nearly exterminated, there wasn’t a top predator to keep the kelp forests in check and sea urchins proliferate, denuding the vibrant, biodiversity-rich kelp forest system. Their sentinel, or indicator species role is one where the health of sea otters is a gauge of the health of the nearshore ecosystem.

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Dedina: It appears that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will no longer restrict the sea otter population north of Point Conception. Can we expect sea otters to inhabit the kelp beds of San Diego County anytime soon?

Curland: As of December 18, 2012, and officially on Jan. 17, the “no-otter zone” in southern California has been eliminated so that sea otters are now legally allowed to occupy historic habitat south of Point Conception.  It is hard to predict when sea otters might expand their range into kelp beds off of San Diego County.  That is something to look forward to and welcome.

Dedina: What do sea otters feed on?

Curland: Sea otters feed on over 60 different invertebrate species including abalone, crabs, sea urchins, turban snails, and much more.

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Dedina: What is the current range of sea otters?

Curland: Worldwide, sea otters are found in California, Washington state, Alaska, British Columbia, and Russia. There are a handful of animals found in Japan.

Dedina: Where are they found in California?

Curland: From Half Moon Bay in the north to Point Conception in the South.  Sea otters are sometimes spotted up above Half Moon Bay, near San Francisco, but this is not a common place for them to be found.

Dedina: What are the current threats to sea otters in California. How is the population doing?

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Curland: Disease, most of which are associated with land based origins; food limitations; shark attacks are some of the key ones. Historically in California, sea otters were caught in gill nets. Currently, there is some uncertainty as to if negative interactions with fishing gear are an impact. These are just some of the threats, but we are still somewhat puzzled with what all contributes to the stagnant growth patterns of sea otters in California and the increased mortality. The current population survey from spring 2012 showed a very slight uptick in the three-year average, but what continues to concern scientists and conservationists is that we don’t see sustained growth over years.

Dedina: There used to be thousands and thousands of sea otters along the Pacific Coast of North America. What happened to the population? Did sea otters die off naturally?

Curland: The estimate for the number of sea otters that existed in California before the 18th and 19th century fur trade is believed to be between 15,000 and 17,000 sea otters. It was this expansive fur trade that decimated the population of sea otters worldwide. In fact, until a small population of between 50-100 were found off the Big Sur Coast in 1938, it was believed that sea otters were extinct in California.

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Dedina: What is the role of sea otters in ecosystem management?

Curland: The presence of sea otters in the kelp forest ecosystem has a profound effect on the health of that system. When sea otters were nearly hunted to extinction, sea urchins and other invertebrate grazers proliferated, denuding the kelp forest and turning them into urchin barrens. When sea otters returned, the system became more balanced and rich in biodiversity.

Dedina: What is the best way that we can continue to conserve our sea otter populations and help to increase the population in California?

Curland: We first need to understand better what is killing sea otters and then we can begin to mitigate these impacts with proper advocacy and changes in policy. Improving water quality will certainly benefit the habitat sea otters occupy and has the potential to reduce direct problems that sea otters face, like certain diseases. Contributing to the California Sea Otter Fund, which is line 410 on the California State 540 Income Tax Forms is a way that Californians can help in the recovery and conservation of sea otters.

Dedina: What are some of the current things that Friends of the Sea Otter is doing to conserve the population?

Curland: This year Friends of the Sea Otter celebrates its 45th Anniversary. We are the oldest sea otter conservation group in the world working on policy and education efforts that will help sea otters. Over the years, we’ve worked on ending the no-otter zone, Alaska sea otter issues, negative interactions between sea otters and fishing gear, educating the public on sea otter natural history and conservation, water quality issues, recovery planning, and many other issues.

The Top Five Beach Movies We Hate to Love

One cure for the mid-winter blues  is to make some popcorn, curl up on the couch and check out one of these ultra fun beach movies.

Fast Times at Ridgemont High

Fast Times at Ridgemont High

1. Fast Times at Ridgemont High

Face it, Sean Penn as Jeff Spicoli, a semi-savant, airhead, lamebrain is the best film portrayal of a surfer ever (with the exception of Jay Adams as himself in Dogtown.) Directed by Amy Heckerling (who went on to even better stuff in Clueless) and penned by San Diego’s own Cameron Crowe, Fast Times nails late ’70s early ’80s SoCal teen culture, before John Hughes moved the nexus of teen lollapalooza to the Midwest with movies like The Breakfast Club and Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.

The best thing about Fast Times is its crazy good cast including Judge Reinhold, Phoebe Cates (so babalicious!), Forest Whitaker, Eric Stolz (who Quentin Tarantino would later allow to update his role as a drug dealer in Pulp Fiction), Anthony Edwards, Nicolas Cage, rocker goddess Nancy Wilson (who Crowe later married), and Ray Walston as Mr. Hand, the high school teacher we all remember hating. With lots of nudity, sex, drinking and drugs, you probably don’t want yo

Valley Girl (film)

Valley Girl (film) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

ur teens to watch this, but more than likely they already have.

2. Valley Girl

Nicolas Cage wins over valley-beach princess Julie played by Deborah Freedman in this underrated ’80s teen flick. With lots of screen time for LA power pop indie gods The Plimsouls, in Valley Girl, like in all great teen pics, the key romancing takes place at the beach. Cage updates the stereotypical “greaser” role into that of a a Hollywood punker and woos his dream girl on the sands of Santa Monica.

Valley Girl was helmed by Martha Coolidge, who went on to discover and direct Val Kilmer in the 80s classic Real Genius. Valley Girl is a companion piece to Moon Zappa’s horrible and ultra-ironic Valley Girl, arguably the best-worst white girl rap song ever.

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Cover of Malibu Beach

3. Malibu Beach/Van Nuys Boulevard

The best thing about this absolutely lame but lovable twofer from the exploitation kings at Crown International Pictures was the appearance of James Daughton as Bobby in Malibu Beach. Daughton later went on to fame as fascist frat boy Greg Marmalard in Animal House (the best college movie ever). These no-plot teen flicks were drive-in staples during the late ’70s (although I caught them at the now defunct Palm Theater in Imperial Beach) and feature characters such as Dugie (a Speedo wearing greased up bodybuilder) and Chooch (a porn-mustached hot rod racer) who channels Harrison Ford’s Bob Falfa from American Graffiti while ripping off Henry Winkler’s Fonz.

Malibu Beach features an endless parade of airhead bimbo and mimbos driving the oak-lined streets of Malibu while drunk or stoned on their way to the beach to have sex. The likewise plotless Van Nuys Boulevard, a sub-grade rip-off of George Lucas’s American Graffiti, features even dumber teens who cruise around in custom vans while drunk or stoned on their way to have sex at the drive-up burger shack (which is like totally awesome). The best thing about these films is that Richard Linklater used them as templates for his super cool  Dazed and Confused, which is the best teen film of all time. For some reason, both Malibu Beach and Van Nuys Boulevard appeared recently on Netflix streaming and then disappeared. Hopefully you can catch them again very, very soon.

4.The Sure Thing

The film that introduced us to the awkward John Cusack that we came to know and love in Say Anything, Grosse Pointe Blank and High Fidelity among others, this romantic flick directed by Rob Reiner is a gem. Cusack teamed up with Daphne Zuniga (Melrose Place) and super dude Anthony Edwards on this road trip to Malibu, CA, along with The Sure Thing, played by ultra hottie Nicolette Sheridan. This is a homage to Frank Capra’s Oscar winning, It Happened One Night (sort of), although with no redeeming social value, except for the fact that it is still really, really charming.

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Cover of The Sure Thing (Special Edition)

5. Weekend at Bernie’s

An annoying but fun teen exploitation flick starring Jonathan Silverman and Andrew McCarthy a few years after he wooed Molly Ringwald in Pretty in Pink and decades before he morphed into a perceptive travel writer. Weekend takes place at an East Coast beach mansion which explains why all the bad gu

ys are all neon-suit wearing mobsters with bad haircuts. Ted Kiser plays Bernie, the dead guy, who at one point is taken water-skiing by McCarthy and Silverman while he’s dead. This is one of the those films that doesn’t stand the test of time, but with characters named Paulie, Vito, Tina, and Tawny, how can you resist? Plus your kids will love it.

Simmone Jade Mackinnon (L), Brooke Burns (C), ...

Simmone Jade Mackinnon (L), Brooke Burns (C), and Stacy Kamano (R).

Baywatch

Unfortunately Baywatch was a television series so I couldn’t include it my top five list, although nothing else even comes close to being the single best beach filmed entertainment of all time that we hate to love. I mean with David “German God” Hasselhoff, Pamela Anderson, Parker Stevenson (the totally cool star of my favorite ’70s TV series The Hardy Boys) and Kelly Slater (!!!!!), Baywatch is like a graduate seminar in Southern California beach culture. And the people of the world, to their credit, ate it up.

Other honorable mentions include the lovable Lifeguard (Sam Elliot as cool as ever), Blue Hawaii and Mama Mia because, Elvis+Abba=Nirvana. I didn’t include The Beach because it isn’t that fun and Cast Away is long and kind of a drag. Some Like it Hot didn’t make my list because this classic and brilliant Billy Wilder comedy (as in one of the best comedies ever) starring Tony Curtis and Marilyn Monroe that was filmed on the beach in Coronado, will forever be a beach picture that we love to love.

The Best Places to Explore in Baja in 2013

Daniel gets a fun one--the light was perfect in the afternoon for photos.

San Miguel in Ensenada.

For years many Southern California surfers and ocean lovers have lived for Baja. Upon crossing the border they experienced endless empty beaches, great fishing, friendly people and perfect waves.

Then when things got a little rough in Mexico a few years ago, due to the drug war, many Baja California lovers bid adios to their old friend.

But an interesting thing happened during the years that American tourists abandoned Lower California. Rather than sit idly by waiting for tourists to show up, the peninsula’s new generation of entrepreneurs reinvented Baja. They developed a new cuisine, built beautiful new eco-resorts and boutique hotels, and produced fine wines.

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The peninsula got a lot safer as well. Highways have been improved. The increased presence of the police and the military has made travel safer.

Over the holidays my sons and I spent a few mornings and afternoons south of the the border carrying out surgical surf strikes during the recent magical run of winter swells. We scored big and never had a single problem. Lots of smiles, great food, and cool, clean, empty waves.

So here are a few of the hottest spots to sample in our sun-kissed neighbor to the south.

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Northern Baja Cuisine and Wine County: Start off with a late lunch at Javier Plascencia’s gastronomic palace in Tijuana, Mision 19. Then head south and stop for a quick sunset surf before you check into one of the boutique hotels in the Valle de Guadalupe such as the Grupo Habita eco-bungalows or Adobe Guadalupe. For dinner check out the amazingly tasty Corazon de Tierra. The next day, after sampling waves at San Miguel or 3M’s, catch a late breakfast or  lunch at either Boules or Muelle 3. After a second surf session check out the wine, cocktails and dinner at the award winning Manzanilla.

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Whale Watching in San Ignacio Lagoon: The world’s best whale-watching awaits you in this stark and pristine desert lagoon fringed by mangroves, bobcats and coyotes. Filled with more than 200 gray whales during the height of the whale season in February and early March, this is the best place in the world to encounter a friendly whale.

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Whales, Islands and Missions in Loreto and Magdalena Bay: Catch a short flight to the beautiful mission town of Loreto to catch up with old Baja. Tour the amazing azure islands of Loreto Bay National Park, be inspired by the grandeur of Mision San Javier, and take a day trip to Magdalena Bay’s Puerto Adolfo Lopez Mateos for a day of whale watching and wandering the dunes of the barrier islands.

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East Cape: Fill up on organic goodies and beautiful arts and crafts at the San Jose del Cabo Organic Market and then head out east and discover miles of empty white-sand beaches. Explore the coral reef and schools of fish at Cabo Pulmo National Park, one of North America’s best dive spots. If you’re lucky you’ll catch an early season south swell, but during the winter the East Cape is tranquility and heaven. Be sure to catch the sunset over cocktails and dinner at the iconic Crossroads Country Club at Vinorama, where a boutique hotel will open soon.

Whale shark.  Photo courtesy of Ralph Lee Hopkins.

Whale shark on the East Cape. Photo courtesy of Ralph Lee Hopkins.

Todos Santos: Officially the hottest, hippest, and coolest little resort town in Baja. Todos Santos is an old school Baja town remade as a trendy little village with great hotels, excellent food and a laid back vibe. My wife Emily and I spent one of the best years of our life living in Todos Santos back in the mid 1990s, so I love to visit and hang out with friends, surf pristine warm-water waves and eat tasty, healthy food.

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So what are you waiting for? Baja is better than ever. Explore it now while the going is good!

Top Five Ocean and Surfing Stories of 2012

 

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From Hurricane Sandy to the return of big-wave paddle surfing to the crowning of Parko as ASP World Surfing Champion, 2012 was a pivotal year for the ocean and for surfing.

1. Hurricane Sandy and Climate Change. This “Frankenstorm” slammed the Eastern Seaboard like a bomb, leaving a path of destruction and loss of life in its wake. Sandy’s storm surge radically changed the coastline, destroyed entire communities, and reminded us how vulnerable beaches and coastal cities are to sea level rise. Due to Sandy, 2012 was the year that will be remembered when policy makers, politicians and the public finally took climate change seriously. It remains to be seen if President Obama will have the political courage and conviction to address the very real threat of climate change that is altering our planet.

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2. The Return of Big Wave Paddle Surfing. With two days of epic conditions at the Cortes Banks just before Christmas, the world’s best big-wave surfers including Greg and Rusty Long, Mark Healy, Shane Dorian, Peter Mel, Twiggy Baker, Jamie Mitchell and Derek Dunfee, paddled into blue monsters and forever changed big-wave surfing. Those sessions followed another early season paddle session at Jaws on Maui in which veteran surfer Shane Dorian (among many) displayed his mastery of the sea. After the Coast Guard airlifted veteran big-wave charger Greg Long to a San Diego hospital after a multi-wave hold down at the Cortes Bank, we were also reminded about the very real limits to riding giant waves in the middle of the ocean.

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3. New Marine Protected Areas for Southern California. With the establishment of new Marine Protected Areas or MPAs, our most iconic coastal and marine ecosystems in Southern California–including Swami’s, La Jolla, Point Loma, Tijuana River Mouth, Laguna Beach, Catalina Island and Point Dum–are now protected forever. The establishment of MPAs in California is a globally important conservation initiative that will help to foment the restoration of our marine ecosystems and fish and shellfish stocks as well as provide recreational opportunities for our growing population. California now has 848 square miles of protected area, supporting ecosystems from Oregon to the Mexican border.

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4. Parko Wins the ASP World Title and the Changing of the Guard. After four years as ASP runner-up, Joel “Parko” Parkinson was finally crowned ASP World Surfing Champion after a brilliant performance and victory at the Billabong Pipe Masters. Parko, one of the most stylish and popular professional surfers, narrowly edged out Kelly Slater for the ASP title. It remains to be seen if Slater will return for the 2013 ASP Tour (most likely he will). But 2012 was a seminal year for professional surfing. With great performances by Josh Kerr, Kolohe Andino, Gabriel Medina, Julian Wilson, Ace Buchan, John John Florence, Yadin Nicol, Mick Fanning, and Dane (will he return full-time to pro surfing?) among others, the ranks of pro surfing is thankfully undergoing a much needed changing of the guard.

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5. James Cameron Explores the Marianas Trench. Earlier this year Oscar winning filmmaker and ocean explorer James Cameron proved his technical skill, oceanographic prowess and courage by taking his “vertical torpedo”, the Deepsea Challenger, down to a record depth of 6.8 miles or 35,803 feet in the Marianas Trench southwest of Guam. Ironically, we  seem to know more about deep space than we do about our own oceans, but thanks to Cameron and a new generation of ocean explorers and oceanographers, we are on the cusp of uncovering some of the mysteries of the origins of life.

SANDAG sand project 2012 in Imperial Beach

SANDAG sand project 2012 in Imperial Beach

Other worthy events include Hurricane Isaac, the loosening of federal restrictions on the movements of sea otters in California, the warming of Antarctica, the SANDAG sand replenishment project, the ending of La Niña, the expansion of federal marine sanctuaries in Northern California and the increasing acidification of the ocean.

Of course the most important ocean and surfing events in 2012 were those special days when we enjoyed the beaches and waves with our friends and family that belong to us all and are our responsibility to care for.

Shaping New Ideas with Plus One’s George Gall

George surfing Indonesia. Photo courtesy of G. Gall.

George surfing Indonesia. Photo courtesy of G. Gall.

George Gall grew up blocks from the water in Ocean Beach body surfing and riding inflatable mats. Today the third generation board shaper runs Plus One Surfboards.

Serge Dedina: You are a third generation shaper. You would think that the adversity that surfboard shapers face economically would have pushed you away from shaping. Why have you stuck with it at Plus One Surfboards?

George Gall: My grandfather made boards starting in the 1920s for himself and his friends. I don’t know that he made any for money, plus the number of surfers was not that many, so his income came from other sources. He was a bit of an artist, I was told he did graphic/sculpting work on buildings in Balboa Park, worked at the Navy Aircraft Rework Facility on North Island, and worked as a chauffeur/assistant for a prominent San Diego family, the Luces.

I only remember my dad having one foam/glass surfboard and they only had their own boards for surfing and abalone diving. So again there was not a lot of economic pressure to make a living from surfboard building, which is probably why I never heard any discouraging parental words to not shape boards.

George at work. Photo: K. Stucki

George at work. Photo: K. Stucki

Likewise, I had other careers. I went to college and got degrees in mechanical engineering and then mathematics. All the while I made boards, I kind of thought I was going to go the full corporate route, and I did, working for the Space Systems Division of General Dynamics on the rocket program that launched payloads like Cassini, the GPS array and military payloads for the Air Force and CIA.

Then the big change for me happened, wanting to surf more again, I took a big chance and changed careers. I became a high school math and computer science teacher and worked in Chula Vista. This opened me up for summers off, perfect for surfing and travel, and making even more boards.

I was busy to the point of surfing less and working more. Not for the money as much as wanting to make good boards and to stoke people on them. I enjoy it.

George at work. Photo courtesy of Michael Andrew Photography.

George at work. Photo courtesy of Michael Andrew Photography.

Dedina: Is San Diego a good place to be a shaper?

Gall: This is a double-edged sword. Southern California has always been the pre-internet hotbed for innovation and the active lifestyle. This means lots of board makers come here to establish credibility and all the major ingredients: the blank makers, resin and glass suppliers had set up shop near San Diego.

It is good to be a shaper in San Diego, for many reasons: cred, leading edge, testing and close to media to share designs and do business. San Diego is a bad place to be a shaper because there are so many shapers trying to do the same thing, thus the market becomes a bit saturated at times, and the price and profit for boards is probably the lowest in the world outside of China.

San Diego can be an aggressive market due to pro surfers wanting sponsorships and low-ball pricing. Access to materials to home builders has an influence on killing the margin needed to make a living from surfboard building.

George field testing his designs. Photo courtesy of G. Gall

George field testing his designs. Photo courtesy of G. Gall

Dedina: It seems like there is more support for local shapers from the industry and the media. Does that translate to greater sales? Has it helped at all?

Gall: There has been a huge shift from the mindset of pre-2005. Gone are the days of shaping 40, 50, 60 of the same board over and over. Supplanting this is the desire for fresh designs. This paradigm shift has brought the spotlight on “alternate” designs, on new ideas, and thus local shapers.

This translates into different sales, depending upon which side of the threshold the shaper is working. If they were once doing 300 boards a week of the same design, the rise of the local shaper counters their effort. If the shaper is one of the local brands, then yes, they are going to feel an increase in demand, if their designs are good.

However, the local shaper hits a ceiling because there are other local shapers on either side of the shaper’s “territory.” If that shaper has a good share of a particular coastal stretch, then that shaper usually does well, just servicing that business model.

As the territory expands, then the shaper is no longer perceived as a “local shaper” requiring a morph of the public image. In my book, the board has to work, it has to be fun, and the business will come.

Plus One asymmetrical boards.

Plus One asymmetrical boards.

Dedina: What are the trends you see for surfers and the type of boards they are riding right now. What are the hot shapes?

Gall: Experimentation. The average surfer has seen the iconic top surfers trying “new stuff.” With this permission slip, the average surfers are cleansing themselves of the “one-design” constraint of the last 20 years. With this experimenting there will be successes, which will manifest larger quantized jumps in better designs than the small incremental refinements of the old designs.

With this greater design mutation, it is assured you will see greater, more noticeable progress in surfboard design; the door is now open wide, pushed by newfound creativity and also financial reasons. In a way, it is good to see this wide array being tried in the water. Along with this, we are seeing surfing change, less “clonish” with different styles and approaches.

On the other hand, imagine being a surfer who finally gets the hundreds of dollars together to get a new board who must make a decision to go with a “known” design, usually reinforced as a “model,” which implies more credibility to a board, or to take an expensive gamble on an unknown concept that might result in being stuck with it for a while, having to get rid of it, and having to endure criticism from peers–the all-stagnating peer imperative.

George and his racing SUP design. Photo: G. Gall.

George and his racing SUP design. Photo: G. Gall.

Dedina: Is the economic incentive to use more sustainable or “green” materials there yet?

Gall: We are still on the uphill side of sustainable boards at the leading edge of performance surfing. I often wake up wanting to go in the shop and build something that was grown or was from something used previously for another purpose, so it would not be a waste.

Everyone in my family built wooden boards and that weighs on me, especially now. The big difficulty is educating the buying surfer to understand that purchasing a sustainable board is much more than just getting another board to ride.

Seeing the big picture offers a satisfaction, and to some a fulfilling duty, to make a responsible surfboard purchase. We are trying new materials all the time and are in contact with many of those dedicated to finding the coming viable solutions. I do not think there is a surfer out there who would be opposed to owning and riding a surfboard that was 100 percent green. The constraints right now seem to be cost, durability, performance and convenience.

Shaping machine Plus One design. Courtesy G. Gall.

Shaping machine Plus One design. Courtesy G. Gall.

Dedina: What can the surf industry and even the surf media do to promote having surfers work with local shapers? Could local shapers work together more effectively to create a trade association to promote the art of shaping and buying handcrafted surfboards?

Gall: Most of the push is word of mouth. The push is being felt the strongest where it matters the most: in the water. But whether at the local break, or big contest, or daredevil surf spot, the credibility of the shaper is in how the board works in the water. In most cases there is a core group or core surfer who is devoted to a particular board concept.

The shaper needs to be dedicated to listening to the surfer, produce the dream into a reality, and maybe answer the phone every once in a while. Reputation is, or should be, made by the merits of the shaper. The modern “word of mouth” is social media.

I get more and more boards ordered on an Internet-only basis, and it is working. In fact I am seeing less errors on orders since we have written histories on boards and idea development. This has actually made my workload easier and a little less stressful.

Plus One computer aided design. Courtesy G. Gall.

Plus One computer aided design. Courtesy G. Gall.

Another thing I see happening post-2005 (blanks) and post-2007 (economy) is that the remaining shapers have had to pull up their stakes and regroup. It is now common to see five or six shapers have their boards made under the same roof.  At Plus One we have six to eight shapers who will come in to do their work, all of their own brand.

This strategy is a good starting point to go to the next level which is to promote the trade. Shapers are more networked together now than ever before. We have tribute shows and a semblance of a trade show open to the public. A trade association would strengthen the small local shapers and give them a voice and a channel to improve what they make.

Why Marine Protected Areas Benefit Surfers

Cabrillo MPA in Point Loma, San Diego.

Any North County or southern Baja vet most likely has run into Garth Murphy intensely evaluating surf conditions from shore and gracefully riding the best waves of the season. A California icon who partnered with Mike Doyle and Rusty Miller in their infamous and pioneering Surf Research company, Garth is the author of the epic novel of California, The Indian Lover, and the son of noted fisheries biologist Garth I. Murphy, who was La Jolla’s Scripps Institution of Oceanography‘s first PhD, and a professor at the University of Hawaii.

Garth, who has lived, surfed and advocated for coastal and marine protection in Hawaii, Australia and Baja California, was a member of the California Department of Fish and Game‘s Marine Life Protection Act Initiative (MLPAI) Regional Stakeholder Group.

As a result of that effort a new network of marine protected areas (MPAs) was established in Southern California with reserves at Swami’s, Black’s-Scripps, South La Jolla, Cabrillo-Point Loma and the Tijuana River Mouth. These MPAs conserve key marine ecosystems such as kelp beds, reefs, sea grass beds – the ecological features that provide the foundation for some of our very best waves.

Serge Dedina: Why should surfers care about marine conservation and creating MPAs in Southern California?

Garth Murphy: Because we have 300 wave-rich surf spots to choose from and over a million Southern California surfers average 20 surfs a year – for 20 million yearly immersions in what usually happens to be our ocean’s most bio-diverse coastal marine habitats. The Marine Life Protection Act recognizes traditional surfing as a compatible recreational use of the ocean resource, permitted in protected areas except at mammal haul-outs, bird roosts and estuaries. A network of Marine Protected Areas, by protecting and conserving complete coastal ecosystems and habitat, enhances the biodiversity and abundance of marine life, enriching our experience, while minimizing and controlling potential habitat-destructive human activities, which directly affect us.

Looking toward the San Diego-Scripps MPA and Black’s Beach in La Jolla.

Dedina: Why is preserving marine ecosystems of Southern California so important for surfers?

Murphy: Southern California surfers and marine life share natural coastal ocean habitats of every important class: estuaries and river mouths, beaches and inter-tidal zones, surf grass and eel grass beds on composite reefs like Cardiff; rare cobble reefs like Trestles, Rincon and Malibu; rocky reefs like Windansea and Laguna; submarine canyons like Blacks, and sand bars at Newport and Pacific Beach; as well as man-made habitats like the Piers at Huntington and Imperial Beach, rock jetties like the Wedge and Hollywood by the Sea, and artificial reefs.

As a boon to surfers, thick coastal kelp forest canopies, which shelter the greatest biodiversity of coastal marine species, also protect us from the afternoon winds, refining ocean surface texture and grooming the swells to extend our surfing hours and the carrying capacity of affected surf spots. Habitat-based marine protected areas preserve everything within their boundaries, including our cherished surf spots.

Dedina: What about water quality? Would marine reserves help our efforts to keep beaches free from polluted runoff?

Murphy: Coastal ocean water quality is not just a function of land pollution runoff. Over-exploitation and depletion or collapse of important food web components causes imbalances that degrade marine ecosystems and make the ocean more vulnerable to disease outbreaks and opportunistic invasive species like stinging jellyfish, algae blooms and toxic red tides, diminishing water quality and habitat suitability for marine life and surfers.

On the contrary, robust, bio-diverse marine ecosystems with intact food webs are resilient, resisting and adapting to environmental change and pollution, maintaining water and habitat quality. Estuaries are marine life nurseries, fresh/salt water interfaces that empty into many of our finest surf spots. We absorb that same water through our eyes, ears, nose and mouths on duck-dives and wipeouts. Rebuilding and maintaining bio-diverse estuaries with a full range of marine life creates healthier nurseries, and encourages upstream compliance with pollution regulations. The result is better water quality for all of us.

Dedina: So in the end, how does preserving our marine heritage in Southern California benefit surfers?

Murphy: The California surfing style evolved in a unique marine environment of glassy peeling waves. Stylish surfing and our beach lifestyle have become an important part of California history and culture –and media focus – generating an endless wave of glossy-color surf magazines, surf videos and feature films. The success of the $7-plus billion surfing industry, centered in Southern California, depends on maintaining the high cultural value of the traditional California surfing experience: as exciting, invigorating exercise, as a get-away, as a sport, a meditation, a dance, a family get-together and photo opportunity –enhanced by a vibrantly alive and healthy ocean.

The ocean is Earth’s largest and most accessible enduring wilderness. Regular contact with wilderness is a human, and especially American, cultural value, manifested today in the ocean by the popularity of surfing. A full and abundant spectrum of marine species – from whales to hermit crabs to phytoplankton – is an integral part of our ocean-wilderness experience.

Marine Protected Areas enhance ecosystem awareness by exposing us to a broad diversity of marine life. They encourage monitoring of potential problems and upstream compliance with complementary air and water quality regulations. The positive water quality and life-giving effects of marine protected areas are a valuable gift to the surfers and marine species who share them.

Sliding the Glide with Shaper Josh Hall

Josh Hall, 31, the president of the Pacific Beach Surf Club  is one of the San Diego’s core shapers and surfers.

His innovative and stylish shapes and surfing directly connect him to his mentor and surfing legend Skip Frye. On clean fall days I often catch up with Josh in the lineup at La Jolla Shores where we swap stories about Baja and Spain.

Dedina: When did you start surfing and why? Do you remember your first surf session?

Josh: I started surfing toward the end of 8th grade and beginning of high school. Kind of late by today’s standards. Growing up, my family was always at the beach. We’d go to south Carlsbad every summer for two weeks from when I was born until now, so I was always in the water. My grandfather boogied almost until he was 80! And my half brother was a big surfer, but being ten years older we weren’t real close when I was young so it was up to my friends and I to get it going on our own.


Serge: When and where did you decided to get into shaping?

Hall: Once I got the full addiction of surfing, I knew I wanted to build boards. More as a way of being able to stay in surfing and surf forever. I grew up surfing on Felspar St. in Pacific Beach, right next to the Crystal Pier. There was always a heavy group of older locals that were all in the board building business–Joe Roper, Bird Huffman, Larry Mabile, Hank Warner, Glenn Horn. All those guys checked the pier every day so being around them was a huge influence on me. And of course, everyone’s hero Skip Frye had Harry’s Surf Shop with his wife Donna and great friend Hank right there, a half block from the sand.

Serge: How did your relationship with Skip Frye develop?

Hall: Well surfing Felspar everyday, you’d see Skip in the mornings cleaning up trash around the cul-de-sac and then you’d see him later surfing. But it really started when I was 18-19 and ordered my first board from him.

Dedina: Is the role of a mentor critical in producing good surfers and shapers?

Hall: Absolutely. Skip has taught me everything I know about both surfing and shaping–weather, tides, swell directions, periods, everything to do with waves. And of course over the last ten years, he has bequeathed to me a lot of his design theory and his evolution as a shaper/surfer.

It is critical to spend time paying dues, working from the ground floor up, starting at sweeping and packing, then maybe to fins, then maybe other glassing things.

Too many people nowadays just pop up and go, “I’m a shaper,” and they might not even surf. It takes time, and lots and lots of practice. I am just really fortunate to have started with the right person to follow. It is important to ride the boards your are building and watch boards be built. That helps build your overall design knowledge every day. I just happened to be (and still) learning from someone who has 50 years of experience.


Dedina: You and Skip seem to represent San Diego and California’s forgotten art of style and soul. Do you see the need for style once again being recognized or has it been lost with the rise in more technical and aerial surfing maneuvers?

Hall: I think style is important, for sure. For me, hanging around those older guys when I was a grommet, it was for sure all about style. They could pick out any surfer in the line-up from their style, from the pier to the point. As much as big industry seems to be taking over, in my opinion, there’s a HUGE movement of individuals right now, whether surfers or shapers or both, creating their own identities and I think its a far better picture of what’s really going on right now.

Dedina: With the rise of machine-produced surfboards and mass production in China, you’ve made a commitment to creating handcrafted surfboards. Do you regret becoming a shaper? Is it still really possible to make a living as a shaper anymore in the U.S.?

Hall:  I don’t regret at all becoming a shaper. Surfing and shaping has given me everything I have. Now some shapers have been able to turn it in to a bigger-than-hobby business, which is possible still, but for me it’s all so I can surf.

These days I think it is really important that your shaper be a good surfer. You are going to want to be able to talk to them about certain waves or how you’d like to surf, and the guys that just design on the computer might not be able to fulfill what your looking for. Now don’t get me wrong, the machine is another tool, and has a place in the business, its just different from my philosophy for why I shape.

Dedina: What is it that you love most about creating surfboards?

Hall: Well, without getting too romantic about it all, you take this fairly crude foam core and literally sculpt it with various tools by hand in to this visually pleasing foil, that is actually beyond super functional in a really inconsistent medium. And the phone calls you get from a customer right after that first session on a new board. The stoke in their voice is extremely satisfying.

Dedina: What kind of shapes do you see working the best in San Diego and Southern California?

Hall: Well, I’m a fish guy. In the various lengths, forms and fins set up, a fish can be the most versatile shape in the universe. My other creed is that everyone in San Diego should own an 8-foot egg. It’s the panacea of surfing. A short board for a long boarder and a long board for a short boarder!

Dedina: In your role as the President of the Pacific Beach Surf Club you’ve helped to continue the club’s role in coastal stewardship and giving back. Why is it important for surfers to take responsibility for safeguarding the beaches we use?

Hall: Well first off the ocean is the biggest resource we have in the entire world, and if we continue to treat it the way we have been IT WONT BE HERE for future generations. So part of the goal of the club is to help further along that thought.

We need to do everything we can to help keep it clean. We do about four annual beach cleanups a year and donate to organizations who are able to do more with it than just our little club in PB. Raising awareness is something I learned from Donna and Skip back in the Harry’s days.

Dedina: You have spent a lot of time in Spain, studying and now surfing and shaping. How did your interest in Spain develop and what is it about northern Spain that has you spending so much time there?

Hall: Well I got a degree in Spanish Literature from SDSU in 2003, and lived in Salamanca, Spain for one year during my undergrad. The love for Spain first came about because my best friend and my former Coronado High School Spanish teacher Smoky Bayless took a group of us kids to Spain. That trip changed my whole life.

Besides many other reasons (friends, family, food, wine, surf, culture) the Basque Region is where the majority of the Spanish and French surf industry lives. So that’s why I stay there so often. My friend Peta has a factory in Irun that I shape at and then the boards get glassed in Soustons, France.

Josh and surfing innovator Carl Eckstrom at last year’s Sacred Craft Expo

Dedina: : You also spend a lot of quality time off the grid in deep Baja. How does the wildness of surfing in Baja contribute to your evolution as a shaper and surfer?

Hall: Baja brings to me a peace of mind. It is paradise down there. As far as shaping goes, depending on the swell and spot, you can have more actual time surfing on a wave in one trip then you do here for an entire season. That alone is worth gold for R&D purposes.

Dedina: Anything else you want to add?

Hall: I’ve only been able to get here with the help of a whole heap of different people and so for that I am humbled and appreciative. I just hope that I am but a small reflection of all those influences. Slide the glide!

The Five Best Surf Movies of All Time

Teahupoo, Papeete, Tahiti

Let’s face it–most surf movies are incredibly boring.

Surf “porn” with repeated barrels, aerial maneuvers, tropical locales and hipster soundtracks.

That’s perfect for groms or big screens at beach eateries and bars, but fail to live up to any basic cinematic story-telling standards.

A few filmmakers have done their best to introduce audiences to the themes that make surfing a truly original sport. These directors, Bruce Brown, Stacy Peralta, John Milius and Jeremy Gosch all made great films first and surfing films second.

All touch on themes rarely examined by everyday surfers and involve some of the sport’s brightest stars, writers, and most iconoclastic and idiosyncratic surfers. If I had to add a sixth film here it would definitely be Sunny Abberton’s fascinating and original Bra Boys.


1. The Endless Summer (1964)

In the early 1960s, pioneer surf filmmaker Bruce Brown set off on a trip around the world with Mike Hynson and Robert August, two young surfers from Southern California on a quest for an “endless” summer. They scored waves in Senegal, roamed across apartheid-era South Africa, rode endless peelers at Cape St. Francis and surfed backwash in Tahiti.

The sense of humor and sympathetic and silent performances of Hynson and August, combined with the deadpan narration of Brown made this a national hit in 1966 and a groundbreaking adventure film.

Endless Summer has defined surf travel for generations, and still holds up as a timeless narrative on the innocence of surfing and the friendship that still link surfing and surfers around the globe. If you haven’t yet embarked yet on your own Endless Summer, free of surf camps and a calendar, then watch the film and find your dream.

2. Dogtown and Z-Boys (2001)

A decade after clean cut Hyson and August traipsed around the world in mod suits and Ray Bans, a collection of scruffy kids from the wrong side of the tracks in Santa Monica and Venice or Dogtown took the radical Hawaiian vertical surfing style epitomized by Larry Bertleman, Buttons Kaluhiokalani and Mark Liddel and applied it to the waves of Venice, and the streets, banks and pools of Southern California.

Dogtown and Z-Boys is Stacy Perralta’s brilliant homage to his youth in which he digs deep and comes up with a stunning deconstruction of the ill

usion of the Ho

llywood glitter surrounding the surf and skate culture of Southern California.

Brilliantly written and directed, everything is pitch perfect in this documentary that sheds light on 1970s-era surf and skate culture that until recently was really a lost decade.

As someone who learned to surf and skate in Imperial Beach, a U.S.-Mexico border version of Dogtown during the same era, this movie draws you in and makes you think about the social forces that brings surfers together in a state of joy, and at the same time, as in the case of Jay Adams, spit them out into the street.

The fictional version, The Lords of Dogtown was filmed in Imperial Beach and is an admirable attempt to convey the era, but falls way short of Peralta’s original.

3. Big Wednesday (1978)

I still remember watching this John Milius-directed film when it first came out in at the Vogue Theater in Chula Vista. My grom buddies and I laughed at all the right moments, were in awe of the surfing finale, loved the style and were lucky enough to understand the Changing of the Guard storyline.

Co-writers Milius and Denny Aaberg were Malibu surfers from the early 60s who in Big Wednesday managed to capture the end of the longboard era, Vietnam, big-wave surfing, professionalism and the essence of surfing and style.

Originally written off by surfers and critics, Big Wednesday ultimately earned the respect it deserves. The classic lines, fight scenes, Tijuana trip, epic draft registration set piece and the surfing all make this a fun and required family surf movie.

Gary Busey’s Leroy “The Masochist” combing his hair with a fish was also epic

The surfing and water cinematography are absolutely top notch. Water stunt doubles included Peter “P.T.” Townend, Bill Hamilton, Bruce Raymond, Jackie Dunn, J Riddle, Ian Cairns and Gerry Lopez playing himself

The group were captured on film by legendary cameramen Dan Merkel, Bud Browne, George Greenough and Greg MacGillivray. Big Wednesday is the Casablanca of surf films: timeless, beautifully conceived and executed classic American cinema.

4. Bustin’ Down the Door (2009)

In the early to mid 70s a small group of feral but extremely talented Australian and South African surfers—Shaun Tomson, Mark Richards, Ian Cairns, Michael Tomson, Peter Townend and Wayne “Rabbit” Bartholomew, among others, assembled each winter on Oahu’s North Shore to surf the best waves and fight tooth and nail to become the world’s best surfers.

In the process they invented the modern era of professional surfing and managed to disrespect Hawaiian culture. Hawaiian surfers brilliant but more staid surfing epitomized power, style, flow, speed, courage and honor. This brilliant and moving unflinchingly film tells that story–no holds barred.

With the help of an insightful and contemplative Barry “B.K.” Kanaiaupuni (who is the lead storyteller on the Hawaiian side as well as Jeff Hackman and other North Shore stalwarts), Bustin’ Down the Door portrays the compelling and emotional tale of how surfing’s pro pioneers became victims of their own hubris and end up finding their own humility and humanity.

Surfers are generally unable to examine themselves honestly, but watching Rabbit discuss his childhood poverty is stirring. Combined with the observations by Hawaiian surf veterans of this tale, Bustin’ Down the Door is great and essential filmmaking. As a grom in the 70s all these guys were my heroes (they still are) and the surfing itself still holds up for its timeless beauty, radicalism, originality and precision.

5. Riding Giants (2004)

Riding Giants, Bustin’ Down the Door and Dogtown are about as close to the definitive historical and social texts on surfing as you’ll find. In Riding Giants, Stacy Peralta shows what it is like to be in a wild ocean and more importantly it goes deep into two of surfing’s legends and heroes–Greg Noll and Laird Hamilton, as well as Maverick’s pioneer Jeff Clark, and Hamilton’s tow partner Dave Kalama (a great surfer in his own right).

The footage is incredible, the personalities, stories and histories are compelling and the film once again benefits from Peralta’s expert direction and production value. If you can find and read William Finnegan’s amazing “Playing Doc’s Games” from The New Yorker”, after you see this, Bustin Down the Door and Dogtown, then you’ve hit the surfing trifecta.

White Wash: Challenging Racial Stereotypes in Surfing

Last night I spoke with the Malibu Surfing Association (thanks guys!!!) at Duke’s in Malibu. In attendance was Andrea Kabwasa, who is active in the Malibu club. Andrea was handing out invitations to attend a screening of White Wash, a film that explores the “often overlooked ‘Black aquatic tradition.” Andrea is also in the film.

I had first learned of the interesting history of black surfers while on a surf trip to Michoacan, Mexico. I met members of the Black Surfing Association, who were in the process of making White Wash.

Members of the Black Surfing Association after a long session surfing a secret left point in Michoacan.

After the trip I returned home and wrote this post for my occasional column in the Voice of San Diego:

On a recent surfing trip to the wild Pacific coastline of southern Mexico, I met a group of surfers who are so committed to their vision of community that it made me reevaluate my own notion of surfing as sport. For members of the Black Surfing Association, in whose company I was lucky enough to spend two mornings surfing a remote left point break, surfing is, in the words of BSA’s Rick Blocker, about, “teaching, mentoring.”

In between multiple surf sessions (it stayed offshore until 1p.m.) and watching BSA member Rusty White rip the head high perfect lefts, I chatted with Rick and Will Lamar about their passion and the history of black surfing in Southern California.

Rick and Will are some of the most interesting and perceptive surfers I’ve met. Rick is the BSA historian and according to Wetsand.com:

In the early ’60s, Blocker and friends Max McMullin and Marc Thompson began skating streets and banks all over west Los Angeles. Rick’s childhood “play cousin”, Marty Grimes, close friend of the Dogtown crew and perhaps the first black professional skateboarder, credits Rick with introducing him to the surf/skate lifestyle. A few years later, a friend of Rick’s mother took him surfing for the first time, at Malibu. Rick was instantly “stoked just being in the water, seeing the sights, seeing the perspective.” Rick began commuting by bus from inner city LA to Santa Monica, where he kept an old board in a “board locker” at the pier. In 1968, when he was 13, Rick saved up enough money ($150) to buy his first new stick, a Dewey Weber longboard.

Will was shooting video for a documentary and discussed how African Americans were a key part of the Southern California beach scene in the early part of the 20th century — but were physically barred from using the beach after the first black surfing resort, Bruce’s Beach, was destroyed. This history of Bruce’s Beach in Manhattan Beach is an ugly chapter in the often sordid history of Southern California, in which racism is a neglected theme in the often Disneyfied accounts of our past — especially as it relates to what some geographers call “Surfurbia.”

According to the City Project, from whose executive director, Robert Garcia, I had first heard about Bruce’s Beach:

When Manhattan Beach was incorporated in 1912, a two-block area on the ocean was set aside for African-Americans. Charles and Willa Bruce built a black beach resort there, the only resort in Southern California that allowed Blacks. Bruces’ Beach offered ocean breezes, bathhouses, outdoor sports, dining, and dancing to African-Americans who craved their fair share of Southern California’s good life. As coastal land became more valuable and the black population in Los Angeles increased — bringing more African-Americans to Bruces’ Beach — so did white opposition to the black beach. The black beach was roped off. The KKK harassed black beachgoers. The City of Manhattan Beach pressured black property owners to sell at prices below fair market value and prevailed in the 1920s through condemnation proceedings. Bruce’s Beach and the surrounding black neighborhood were destroyed. Black beachgoers were then relegated to the blacks-only section of Santa Monica beach known as “the Inkwell.” Manhattan Beach tried to lease the Bruce’s Beach land to a private individual as a whites-only beach, but relented in the face of civil disobedience organized by the NAACP. Bernard Bruce has spent his life telling people about Bruce’s Beach, the beach resort that his family owned. No one believed him because they did not believe black people owned beach resorts. This is why it is important to tell the story of Bruce’s Beach.

On March 31, 2007, the city of Manhattan Beach renamed its ocean front park Bruce’s Beach Park in memory of the pioneering African American community there. At least in Los Angeles, there is an awareness of how to redress the racist wrongs of the past. In San Diego, when it comes to the racist heritage of coastal exclusion (in such enclaves as La Jolla), we are in total denial.

The spirit of Bruce’s Beach lives on in the BSA and in surfers like Will and Rick, who are attempting to build a inclusive surfing community in Southern California rather than one that includes a select few.

One of the subjects I mentioned last night during my talk was the need for the surfing community to reach out to everyone to share our love and passion with the ocean. That is also especially important for the mostly white environmental movement.

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