Surf Thugs Lawsuit Can Proceed

"The Lunada Bay Boys are alleged to be a group of young and middle-aged men, local to Palos Verdes Estates, who consider themselves to be the self-appointed guardians of Lunada Bay. One of their tenets is to keep outsiders away from the surf location through threats and violence."


From Spencer v. Mowat, decided Tuesday by the California Court of Appeal:

Lunada Bay is a premier surf spot, located in Palos Verdes Estates [a rich suburb of Los Angeles, south of LAX -EV]. The Lunada Bay Boys are alleged to be a group of young and middle-aged men, local to Palos Verdes Estates, who consider themselves to be the self-appointed guardians of Lunada Bay. One of their tenets is to keep outsiders away from the surf location through threats and violence.

Plaintiffs are non-locals who have tried to surf Lunada Bay, but encountered harassment by the Bay Boys. They brought suit against the Bay Boys and more than a dozen of its individual members. Two of those members filed motions to dismiss under the anti-SLAPP law (Code Civ. Proc., § 425.16), arguing that the allegations against them were based on protected speech and petitioning activity. The trial court denied the motions, concluding that the allegations against the moving defendants were actually based on a conspiracy to commit assault and other torts. Those defendants appeal, and we affirm….

The operative complaint is the first amended complaint. The plaintiffs are two surfers, Corey Spencer and Diana Milena Smoluchowska-Miernik, and Coastal Protection Rangers, a non-profit dedicated to protecting California's beaches and ensuring they are safe and accessible to all visitors.

The defendants are the Lunada Bay Boys, a number of its individual members, including appellants Michael Thiel and Charlie Mowat, and the City of Palos Verdes Estates. Thiel and Mowat are the only defendants who are appellants in this appeal. Our discussion of the complaint's factual allegations will therefore focus on their conduct, although some understanding of the general allegations is necessary….

Broadly speaking, plaintiffs allege that the Lunada Bay Boys, sometimes with the tacit approval of City officials who did nothing to stop them, engaged in what is known as "localism"—a practice of keeping outsiders away from the surf site through threats and violence. {The complaint alleges more than just tacit approval on the part on the City; it alleges that the City used its discretion to enforce municipal laws in a manner that discriminates against outsiders, and ignored requests of the California Coastal Commission to make Lunada Bay more accessible to the public. As we are only concerned with the anti-SLAPP motions of Thiel and Mowat, we do not further discuss the allegations against the City.}

The complaint alleges that the Bay Boys have "blocked public access to the beaches of Palos Verdes Estates, Lunada Bay in particular, for over 40 years. In what is a multi-generational practice of extreme 'localism,' and using rules established by the 'older boys,' the Bay Boys use physical violence, threats of bodily harm, vandalism to visitor[s'] vehicles, verbal harassment and other intimidation to enforce their unwritten rule: 'If you don't live here, you don't surf here.' Indeed, members of the Bay Boys believe it is 'disrespectful' for outsiders to visit, use or even photograph 'their' beach."

The Bay Boys, specifically including Mowat, were alleged to have built and maintained an unpermitted masonry rock and wood fort seating area, known as "Rock Fort," near the beach. "The steep switch-backed trails that lack proper improvements act as perfect pinch points, which the Lunada Bay Boys use to block access to the shoreline. From the Rock Fort and the bluffs above, the Individual Members of the Lunada Bay Boys orchestrate illegal activity that is intended to keep the public away. Some of the more egregious tactics include: (1) physically obstructing outsiders' access to the beach trails; (2) throwing rocks; (3) running people over with surfboards in the water; (4) punching outsiders; (5) stealing outsiders' wallets, wetsuits and surfboards; (6) vandalizing vehicles and personal property, including slashing tires and waxing pejorative slurs onto vehicle windows; (7) levying threats against outsiders; and (8) intimidating outsiders with verbal insults, gestures, and threats of serious injury."

Due, in part, to the local police's claimed unwillingness to pursue complaints against the Bay Boys, the individual plaintiffs and other would-be surfers who allegedly were harassed by the Bay Boys were often unable to identify the specific individuals who harassed them. As a result, certain allegations of the complaint simply name the "Individual Defendants," a designation which includes Thiel and Mowat. For example, the complaint alleges that, "Individual Defendants intimidate visiting beachgoers with threats and taunts, by taking photos and video of beachgoers, and by congregating near the entrances to both [trails to the beach]." The complaint also alleges a conspiracy amongst the Bay Boys: "For many years, The Bay Boys have conspired to commit wrongful acts for the purpose of keeping outsiders from coming to Lunada Bay. The agreements between the individual members of the Bay Boys are made orally, in writing, and are implied by the conduct of the parties."

The causes of action alleged against the Bay Boys and its individual members (including Mowat and Thiel) include public nuisance, assault and battery…..

The allegations against Mowat and Thiel are that, as members of the Bay Boys and "Individual Defendants," they participated in the conspiracy. However, thanks to discovery in a related federal action, plaintiffs obtained records of some text messages among Bay Boys, and, based on those messages, made some specific allegations regarding participation in the conspiracy. Some of those allegations specifically related to Mowat and Thiel….

There's a lot more, for people who find the case as interesting as I do.

NEXT: Court Upholds Mandatory Newborn Health Screening Program,

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. What a bunch of pathetic crybabies. “But it’s myyyyyy special beach and you don’t live here.” Losers.

  2. Does anyone have any links to video evidence of the claims? If a reasonable attorney brought this to this point I am sure there is at least some.

    I am not a surfer but I do know surfers who have talked about this. You know the 50+ types that wear stuff sold for 18 year olds. Many of them have prison tats. They have seen this for decades. It is clearly and widely known that the best surfing spots are almost always considered the territory of a known local gang. Sometimes it is not the whole beach just part of it.

    When I asked about it they told me I could surf there (hypothetically) but you do have to ask the locals and “respect gets you a long way.”

    Good surf real estate is rare, and when surf is good the guys who have dedicated their lives to it don’t want to see a lot of newbies who don’t know what they are doing constantly getting in the way, often getting hurt, and ruining it for everyone. From their point of view if they didn’t enforce some rules the result would be nobody could surf there safely. The chaotic crowds would make it impossible.

    Unfair? Maybe. Illegal? Quite possibly. Certainly the specific actions alleged are illegal. But as the complaint says it has been going on at that site for 40 years. My guess is that the “Bay Boys” got out of hand due to the older guys dying off and hot-blooded young bucks taking over and getting full of themselves and taking it too far.

    1. Thiel is an older guy.

      “(Thiel) supported the motion with his declaration, which explained that he is ’10-40 years older’ than most of the other individual defendants. . . .”

      And they (Bad Boys) are the ones injuring others.

      “When Spencer was in the water, one of the Bay Boys intentionally ran over Spencer with his surfboard, slicing his hand open.”

    2. My guess is that the “Bay Boys” got out of hand due to the older guys dying off and hot-blooded young bucks taking over and getting full of themselves and taking it too far.

      My guess is that commerce in illegal substances is an underlying factor here.

    3. I understand what you are saying, but the problem is this is the United States of America. You don’t get to exclude outsiders from public land just because you stereotype them as being less responsible than you are.

      There is nothing wrong with posting, and enforcing, on an equal basis, against residents and non-residents, rules that organize the activity in a good surfing spot. And if this is important to the City of Palos Verdes, they can collectively fund it with tax money and hire professional law enforcement officers to do it. They certainly have enough money to do that.

      As you can probably tell, I think this stuff about enforcement by private gangs is BS. A complete lie that nobody should countenance. And these gangs should be prosecuted to the full extent of the law.

      Because of several things:

      1. Nobody appointed these guys to police the surf spots.
      2. Nobody WOULD appoint these guys to police the surf spots, because they are bunch of violent lawbreakers. It’s like hiring the mafia to do your security.
      3. These guys clearly believe that there is something wrong with outsiders in general surfing on “their beach”. And that’s not a safety concern. That’s classic discriminatory exclusion on public property.
      4. The “punishments” inflicted on people who cross this gang are not tailored to the offense. If someone surfs badly and endangers someone, there are cameras in 2020. You can record them and get them to the police, or assist victims with tort suits, or whatever. Pelting people with rocks and sexually harassing women does not have anything to do with law enforcement. It has to do with a bunch of violent criminals who enjoy assaulting people.

      So no, there should be zero tolerance for this. If the majority of Palos Verdes citizens want to legitimate protect surfing safety, it’s straightforward for them to do it. This is not anything close to that.

  3. Undercover FBI Special Agent Utah once attempted to penetrate these sacred surfing grounds. He received (and delivered) some violence.

  4. I have to be very careful what I say, but similar issues have been raised regarding the placement of lobster traps along the Maine coast, on occasion it has risen to the exchange of gunfire.

    In one instance, a RICO suit was filed — I’m not sure the outcome of that one.

    And one thing I’ve noticed about law enforcement is that they tend to pick one side than to be neutral and objective.

    1. I don’t think law enforcement has any obligation to be “neutral and objective” towards people who illegally use violence to intimidate other people whom they don’t like.

    2. I have some sympathy for territorial Maine lobstermen. The Maine lobster fishery is one of very few New England fisheries that is still healthy, not devastated by the “tragedy of the commons.”

  5. Surf Nazis must die.

    1. It took three hours before someone used that joke? People need to pick up the pace.

    2. Came here for this.

      Leaving satisfied.

  6. Where have the superior authorities (county, state, federal) — that could and should have overcome, if not prosecuted, criminal-appeasing local officials and imposed adult supervision — been for what is reported to be decades?

    1. The Illuminati got to them.

    2. They were too busy being our “betters”…or didn’t you get the memo?

    3. Not sure why you mention federal authorities, since access to California beaches is controlled by California law. Maybe it’s just part of your longing for more big government control of everything.

  7. Sounds like gang activity with a local anti-snitchin’ rule and local PD corruption.

  8. San Diego County authorities had tolerated such thuggery for many years, until Hawaiian surfer Emery Kauanui was murdered by “Bird Rock Bandits” (La Jolla) in 2008. The perps were prosecuted and convicted.
    I suspect it was understood that if this was swept under the rug as usual, no California surfer would be able to surf safely in Hawaii.

Please to post comments