“Beat it, kook!” –often heard on the Brooks Street Reef lately.
The Independence Day holiday weekend feels like the start of summer: our first consistent hits of warm water and south swells, the marine layer starting to burn off before noon and lots of new faces in the surf.
Part of what makes Laguna Beach so unique as a Southern California beach town is the fact that we still have neighborhoods with neighbors that know each other, that haven’t built out to their lot lines and actually do fun things together.
We have community.
When visitors come to our town for holidays, not everyone respects the community that they are stepping into. In surfer’s parlance, the people that don’t offer respect are considered “kooks.” Sometimes reactions to the rude and disrespectful behavior of kooks can get ugly.
The rule is simple: Give respect; get respect.
I’ve written repeatedly about the Brooks Street 4th of July Parade, the paddle out to honor Mark Metherell and other veterans that have given so much for our freedom, and how special it is to be able to share the joy and respect of a national holiday on a local level with so many friends, neighbors and relatives. It’s why I can’t imagine leaving this town after only moving here 10+ years ago.
There are a lot of ways to define “locals.” Some people like to point to the history that their family has in a place—maybe they’re lucky enough to have lived here for generations (and figured out how to survive and thrive in our crazy economic turmoil). Seniority is always an interesting claim to me. I don’t have it, and I’ve never really valued it at work, school, the place I live or in politics.
Holding a place in line has no real merit.
A better measure of someone’s place in a community is how well they serve the rest of the people that they build relationships with and how much they give before they take. I have little respect for seniority as a title of authority unless it is tied to a life of giving to the community.
In the surf community, there has been a lot of give-and-take around how we manage surfers and stand-up paddlers (SUPpers). Both are relegated to one area, the surfing spots set aside by the black ball flags. Brooks Street Reef has become a bit of a flashpoint for how and where the two groups work together.
As both a surfer and one of the earlier SUP enthusiasts in town, I can see the need for both groups to have a place. They don’t interact well because of the nature of our reef breaks, take off points, greater danger with the larger boards and paddles, as well as concepts for how rotations and wave-sharing works.
Early on, a number of the local surfers at Brooks Street and guys who SUP agreed that the Brooks Street Reef was off-limits to SUPpers if there were surfers in the water. It worked while the populations of SUPpers were limited to small groups of local SUPpers, but times have changed.
Many tourists and newcomers to Laguna are finding that SUPping is a great way to get out on the reefs and kelp beds and enjoy our marine sanctuary. As they become more comfortable on SUPs, they begin to attempt surfing them.
More and more local regulation has been happening at Brooks Street to keep the reef safe based on community understandings, not codified laws. It’s not always pretty when a new person to our community doesn’t offer the respect of a visitor and wants to argue with watermen who have spent a lot of time on our reefs.
Violence occurs when rule of law breaks down around disputes over shared resources. Violence does not enhance community.
Our beach laws are the current blackball flag system that was created in the late 1950s to manage surfers and swimmers. It’s probably time to revisit the blackball system, and the ways that we need to share beaches, reefs and recreational pursuits. We don’t need more fights, and I hope we don’t need a lot of new laws, but I’m tired of hearing “beat it kook!”
David Vanderveen is a Laguna Beach resident, husband, father and energy drink entrepreneur. His email is email@example.com.