Surge in Surfers Leads to More Violence on the Waves

By Alex Salkever, Monitor | The Christian Science Monitor, February 22, 1999 | Go to article overview

Surge in Surfers Leads to More Violence on the Waves


Alex Salkever, Monitor, The Christian Science Monitor


Professional surfer Johnny Boy Gomes reached the pinnacle of the surfing world this winter by winning the Hui Backdoor Shootout - the sport's richest contest. But in early February, a Hawaii judge added a less prestigious accomplishment to Mr. Gomes's rsum - a felony assault conviction.

The judge found the star guilty of breaking a fellow surfer's nose on the North Shore of Oahu. The sentence? In addition to a few pricey fines, Gomes had to come up with a program to tell school kids that the waves are no place for violence.

And for good reason. The Gomes case is no aberration. Surf violence and "localism" - harassment of surfers by other surfers jealously guarding their turf - has become a serious issue along US coasts. The reason for the tension is clear: too many people on too few waves. And to the disgust and dismay of many surfers, the hang-10 mellowness that has come to characterize surfing is rapidly disappearing from what was once considered the world's most laid- back sport. *In Palos Verdes, Calif., and other parts of Los Angeles County, undercover police officers are actually paddling out to monitor trouble spots. *In Oregon and Washington, local surfers regularly escort nonlocal surfers from the water at prized surf breaks. *Even on the remote reefs of Indonesia, surfers from the US, Brazil, and Australia on chartered boats clash over priority for surf spots. According to the Surf Industry Manufacturers Association, the number of surfboards sold is increasing steadily, from 250,000 in 1992 to 350,000 in 1995. There are now about 1.5 million surfers in the US alone. Most are jammed into the small portions of California, Hawaii, and Florida that have the best waves. In addition, baby boomers are continuing to surf well past the age when many of their predecessors would have hung up their boards in the garage for good. "When I was in my 20s, we rarely saw someone in the lineup who was 40 or 50," says Jim Howe, chief of Oahu lifeguard operations. "Now ... we see plenty of people in their 60s and 70s." Technology has also contributed to the tension. Whereas before surfers had to be able to ditch work to check the surf at any time or to be able to read complex weather charts to predict a swell, they can now log onto the Web for real-time views of waves at popular breaks. The camera proliferation has rankled some surfers so much that they regularly spray-paint over lenses to thwart viewers. Meanwhile, surf-forecasting services can notify customers via pager when the conditions for surfing are good, so the beaches fill up even faster during prime times. …

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