Wednesday, August 11, 2004

Surfing Customs, Customers, and Clubs

My surfin’ bud and fellow researcher, Paul Feine, no doubt hoping to score some of the fieldwork grants soon to pour in as a result of my recent plea, rightly reminds me that surfing property rights, as evolved norms, vary widely even along the SoCal coast. Compare, for instance, the mellow vibe at Old Man’s described below with the “locals only” ethos expressed by the Surf Punk’s classic, “My Beach!”

Paul also offered an cogent analysis in favor of privatizing the operation of one of our favorite surfing spots, San Onofre Surf Beach ("Sano"). Paul argued, in brief, that the state of California charges too little to access Sano (encouraging overuse), applies much of the funds that it does collect to unrelated uses (leaving Sano under-funded), and often works at cross-purposes to the private San Onofre Surf Club that locals have created to take up the resulting slack (such as by installing and maintaining shower hoses and BBQ grills). Although I’ve always found the state employees working at Sano friendly and helpful, I have to agree with Paul that their employer’s interests diverge from the interests of us surfers.

What would a locally-owned and operated Sano look like? Although the market’s wendings defy prediction, it seems safe to say that a private party would put up with more um, private partying than the State of California does. The latter killjoy, for instance, mowed down a stand of bamboo that enclosed a cozy little hideaway, reasoning that it might thereby crush the menace posed by dope-smoking surfers. I have my doubts about both the efficacy and wisdom of that policy; I still see a lot of goofily grinning surfers at Sano and still find them completely harmless. More to the point, I doubt that anyone looking to satisfy customers, as opposed to a Drug Czar from the East, would worry about a little secretive sand-side spliff sucking.

I learned about this recent struggle between Sano surfers and the State of California, by the way, from a member of the San Onofre Beach Club. I’ve made a habit of picking trash up off the beach both before and after I surf. Leaving the water after one recent session, I saw another guy doing the same. I struck up a conversation with him and learned that he was fulfilling one of his duties as a member of the club. Score another point for the private provision of public goods!

I plan to join the San Onofre Beach Club, too, as soon as I can figure out the somewhat obscure and informal process. It probably includes some mysterious initiation ceremony involving conch shells, face paint, and hula skirts. Hey, a guy can hope!

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