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Crime & Justice

Is there such a thing as a trust-funded surf gang? It's Palos Verdes' Bay Boys

View of Lunada Bay from the Southeast bluff.
View of Lunada Bay from the Southeast bluff.
Chris Greenspon/KPCC
View of Lunada Bay from the Southeast bluff.
Attorney and surfer Michael Sisson on the Eastern bluff of Lunada Bay.
Chris Greenspon/KPCC

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Lunada Bay is a small, rocky, U-shaped beach on the northwest end of the Palos Verdes Peninsula. The surf spot is legendary for the 20-foot waves that its winter swell brings in — waves that apparently belong to "locals only," according to a group of surfers called the Bay Boys.

Surfing "localism" is the practice of scaring newcomers away from a beach. Surfers may become locals by enduring hazing from current locals in a process that can take years.

Lunada's localism has been in the news on and off for decades, and cropped up again in the Guardian this May, via a hidden camera video of surfers boasting about fights and intimidation.

"It was mostly young to middle-aged white guys," says Rory Carroll, the Guardian's west coast correspondent in the United States. Carroll and fellow journalist Noah Smith climbed down Lunada's bluffs with surfboards and a camera in tow.

"The reason there's a lot of space is because we keep it like that. We f---ing hassle people... There's still fights down here. People will just f---ing duke it out, f---ing work your car," one surfer was caught on tape saying. The same voice goes on to say that he's been sued in the process of fighting outsiders off his beach, "You have to f---ing get a lawyer... that's gonna cost you ten grand. I don't wanna go through that s--- again."

(A map of Palos Verdes Estates. Lunada Bay is at the west-most point on the map. Credit: City of Palos Verdes Estates)

Repeated assault cases led Torrance-based attorney Michael Sisson to sue the City of Palos Verdes Estates (in addition to bringing lawsuits against nine Lunada surfers) for failing to "protect his clients' civil rights."

One of Sisson's clients was pushed off of an eight-foot cliff and shattered his knee on the rocks below at the hands of eight surfers known as the "Dirty Underwear Gang," at the Indicator, a surf spot one block from Lunada Bay. The city's response? A proclamation, denouncing localism.

"We were unsuccessful in getting an injunction," Sisson said regarding his lawsuit against the city. "They said that they couldn't identify the exact gang members. They didn't have a gang list, like LAPD would have with the Crips or the Blood[s]."

When Carroll and Smith returned to their car after gathering footage, the word "Kooks" (amateur surfers) was scrawled on the windshield in surf wax. They went to the Palos Verdes Police Department to report the vandalism.

"We know all of them... They're infamous around here. They're pretty much grown men in little men's mindset... It literally is like a game with kids on a schoolyard to them," said one officer who was recorded on the Guardian's hidden camera. Carroll says the police told them that if they were assaulted, they would respond to a distress call.

Sisson's solution? Have the police monitor surfing websites for big incoming swells, and then set up patrols around the small bay during the forecasted timeframes to catch Lunada when there are the most surfers there.

Every time the Bay Boys are in the news, says Sisson, they pull back on their aggression and lay low for a while. But even when we were there, there were still several men sitting atop the bluffs. Sisson returned their "stink eye."

Carroll admitted he would not try to surf there again until the city or the locals' attitudes change the way outsiders are treated at Lunada Bay.