You can’t own the ocean

OK, listen up.  I want any surfer who has ever even whispered the phrase “Locals only” to line up over there. I have contacted your parents, and they are coming to pick you up, take you home and ground you for a month.  I don’t care if you are over 50.  You’re still grounded until you promise to behave.

No, I am not a surfer, and worse, I am a suburban-dwelling matron.  But more important, I am a human being who loathes selfish, violent bullies and vigilante justice.

Their rationalization is that the waters have just become too crowded, thanks to surf reports on TV and Internet.  I know that is true, and it is lousy, but I have been hearing about the you-can’t-play-here behavior since the late ‘60s in La Jolla and Hawaii. It disturbed me then, but I hoped somehow we had become more civilized, more enlightened as we hit the 21st century.

Sound the buzzer.  Wrong answer.  From what I have read lately, little has changed.  From broken boards to serious beatings, bullying is still the greeting for unknown visitors from the homesteading surfers. It is downright scary, and sure as heck isn’t the behavior your mommy tried to teach you.

Where were these guys the day that preschool taught them about sharing?  You can certainly argue that I can’t possibly know what a true surfer suffers when some vacation surfer from outside the ‘hood dares to enter their favorite surf spot. I can, however, spot the behavior of a spoiled brat from 100 yards away.

Do I really have to state the obvious? You cannot own the ocean. You can’t even lease it. If you could, some developer would have sunk stilts in by now and built-high-end homes from here to Tahiti.

I don’t care if you surf in it every single day.  Squatters’ rights are simply irrelevant. Aqua-centric surfers need to keep in mind what the alternative to open ocean access might be.

Just take a look at the local golf courses.  The only way to keep out the riff-raff and newbies is to charge stunningly large greens fees.

Even I hate the idea of roping off the best surf spots and charging by the wave.

Clearly, education can help.  It won’t solve the crowding but at the very least, everybody who paddles out should know the rules. I have come to learn that there is a very effective system of surf etiquette. I’d like to suggest that knowing it should be required, like applying for a driver’s permit, whenever anyone buys or rents a surfboard, bodyboard or kayak.

Yeah, I know. We don’t need more red tape, but it seems an improvement over blood on the sand.

Jean Gillette is a freelance writer hoping civility hasn’t gone out with the tide. Contact her at


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