MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:
Let's talk surfing now. In Southern California, the premier big-wave spot for surfing is a place called Lunada Bay. Waves there can reach 15 to 20 feet and technically, they are open to everybody because the beaches are considered public. The problem is Lunada Bay really isn't open to just anybody with a surfboard.
For decades, a group of local surfers have threatened outsiders, including assaulting them and vandalizing their cars, all to protect their favorite surf spot. But beachgoers are fighting back. They are suing for open access for all. Denise Guerra reports.
DENISE GUERRA, BYLINE: The sun looks like a huge fireball setting over the cliffs of Lunada Bay. What makes the waves so great is the location of a deep-water reef that creates perfectly shaped waves nearly every time. Just to get to the surf break means a treacherous climb down 100 feet below.
DIANA MILENA REED: It's definitely hard bringing a larger board down the cliff, for sure. It can be really sketchy. It's pretty scary. It's very steep.
GUERRA: That's Diana Milena Reed. She says the cliffs aren't the only hazard. She remembers the first time she tried to surf here.
REED: As I made it down there, I was walking towards the water. I was approached by a man. Immediately, the man started screaming at me and yelling profanities at me and saying that I can't surf there.
GUERRA: It gets worse once you're in the water. Cory Spencer is a police officer from a neighboring city. He's also a surfer, and was off duty when he paddled out to surf Lunada.
CORY SPENCER: We had plenty, plenty of room. You can tell when somebody tries to avoid you and they don't, and this guy steered right into me.
GUERRA: Left him with a gash on his right wrist. Both Reed and Spencer are plaintiffs in a federal class-action civil suit filed last month. They won an injunction and fines against a group of locals known as the Bay Boys.
The group gained notoriety for decades-long intimidation and harassment of outsiders who visit the public bay. Some beachgoers often return to find their vehicles vandalized and their stuff thrown in the water. Spencer had heard the rumors.
SPENCER: The first day, we paid a guy $100 to watch the cars.
GUERRA: But the Bay Boys are not the only ones under scrutiny. The lawsuit also names the city's police chief, Jeff Kepley, as a defendant in the case. He and his department are accused of allowing the harassment to continue unchecked.
It's an accusation the chief will not talk about due to the pending litigation. In an email statement, Kepley said he had not yet reviewed the suit. He said his department takes seriously its public safety mission. Many visitors and some residents say otherwise.
In addition to the chief, the eight men named in the suit are mostly middle-age, in the 40s and 50s. One is a small business owner. Another sells homemade art in local shops. Most reside in million dollar homes in and around the area. None would comment on the allegations in the suit. Access to public beaches, and especially surf, can be contentious in parts of California.
CHAD NELSEN: Good surfable waves sort of come in limited numbers, and there's a lot of surfers out there who want them.
GUERRA: Chad Nelsen is the president of the Surfrider Foundation, a nonprofit that lobbies for coastal access. Nelsen says it's not uncommon for locals to hassle outsiders. Surfing culture operates with a series of unwritten rules of decorum, like waiting your turn to catch a wave or not cutting people off as they ride - in other words, give respect to the people who know the waves best. [POST-BROADCAST CORRECTION: In the audio of this story, we call Chad Nelsen the president of Surfrider. His correct title is CEO.]
NELSEN: If you show up and you give respect to the locals and recognize you're a visitor, you know, no one's going to hassle you. In Lunada Bay, the case is they don't even give people that opportunity.
GUERRA: And that's a problem. Lunada Bay is supposed to be open to everyone. The lawsuit still needs to be certified and heard in court before any potential action can be taken. For NPR News, I'm Denise Guerra in Palos Verdes Estates.
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MARTIN: Sorry, I had to say it - surf's up on NPR News.
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