Federal lawsuit seeks to shut down surfer gang

A gang of territorial surfers at Lunada Bay, Calif., could be in hot water after a federal lawsuit was filed Tuesday, condemning their 'anti-local activities.' 

Chuck Bennett/The Daily Breeze/AP
Surfers ride a wave at Lunada Bay in Palos Verdes Estates, Calif. A proposed class-action lawsuit filed on Tuesday claims local surfers, not shown, at Lunada Bay have used violence and intimidation to protect their Southern California surf spot from intrusion by outsiders.

An unlikely suspect has been terrorizing beachgoers at Lunada Bay, south of Los Angeles, for years, according to a new federal lawsuit. The class action lawsuit names the Lunada Bay Boys as aggressors in a series of assaults and intimidations in the Palos Verdes Estates and beach area. It also accuses local officials of ignoring the problem.

Lunada Bay is known for its massive waves and its natural beauty, and would likely be a popular spot for recreation, if it were not also known for its gang of local surfers. Surf turf wars are as common in the world of surfing as cans of board wax, as surfers stake out their territory and wait for the ultimate ride into shore. There are elaborate territorial "rules" among surfers, governing matters such as to who gets to "drop in" first to a breaking wave, and the watery hierarchy is enforced through intimidation tactics. 

The unusual twist in this case is the age and economic class of these bad boys of the bay – they are middle-aged and wealthy. According to Surfing Magazine, the Lunada Bay Boys are "the roughest and toughest wealthy middle-aged surf gang in the world." 

Surf gangs like the Lunada Bay Boys are as old as the sport itself. According to SurfingToday, "surf punk" groups began to proliferate in Southern California in the 1960s. Groups such as the famous Cito Rats of Montecito, Calif., and the Wolfpack of Oahu, Hawaii, are known for their efforts to defend their waves from those who would encroach on their space.

But the members of this particular local surfing gang are residents of the Palos Verdes Estates, a wealthy neighborhood located to the south of Los Angeles. The approximately 13,000-resident suburb has a median income of $170,000, setting the Lunada Bay Boys apart from other gangs in the Los Angeles area.

While the demographics of this gang might make them wealthier than the average surfer, however, studies show that most surfers don't conform to the teenage, surf rat stereotype. According to a study by Surf-First and the Surfrider Foundation, the median age of California surfers is 35, and the majority (63 percent) are college educated. 

The Lunada Bay Boys use intimidation as their primary weapon, although they are not above resorting to violence. According to the lawsuit, the gang has been known to vandalize property of nonresident beachgoers and use manually operated watercraft (such as surfboards and rowboats) to keep "outsiders" out of the water.

The lawsuit cites the complaints of several named plaintiffs, as well as several who were simply termed "Doe" for the purposes of the lawsuit. One plaintiff, Diana Reed, reported physically threatening behavior by the gang. Another, El Segundo police officer Corey Spencer, claims that his hand was slashed intentionally by a surfer.

Ms. Reed told ABCNEWS7 that the gang’s behavior was frightening and inappropriate.

"It's a way I have never been treated in my life, so it was very frightening to me," she said, "especially as a woman to have a grown man yelling at me like that."

The base of the Lunada Bay Boys' operation is a small rock, masonry, and wood structure that the lawsuit calls "Fort Rock." The fort was illegally constructed, along with a cliff trail called the "Goat Trail," to provide surfers with a base camp at the base of Lunada Bay’s rocky cliffs.

Visitors to Lunada Bay have reported threatening, violent, and illegal behavior by the Lunada Bay Boys since the 1970s. Plaintiffs say that the harassment goes beyond simple localism, and the behavior is harmful. According to the lawsuit, the surfer gang is unapologetic about its decades long string of misbehavior, and has posted a sign at the top of the seaside bluff that reads, "Unlocals will be hassled."

In 2004, another lawsuit awarded one "unlocal" $450,000 for injuries after he was attacked at Lunada Bay.

The decades of unchecked behavior trouble those who would be interested in using the beautiful Lunada Bay for recreation, but feel intimidated by the unruly gang. The Palos Verdes Estates employs its own 40-member police force, according to the lawsuit, yet local law enforcement has been slow to respond to concerns about violence, vandalism, and theft.

According to the lawsuit, Reed made complaints to to local police, which she says were largely ignored. At another point, the lawsuit claims that police watched at a distance while Reed was verbally harassed by gang members.

In January, Mr. Spencer and some fellow surfers went as far as to pay a bodyguard $100 to watch their gear on the beach while they surfed.

City manager Tony Dahlerbruch has been accused of being slow to respond to accusations of gang activity.

"Palos Verdes Estates has a long history of deliberate indifference in not investigating or otherwise policing acts of violence and vandalism against visiting beachgoers," says the lawsuit. "The response is always the same: City leaders acknowledge the problem, promise to do something, and then do little or nothing."

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