The Worlds Most Notorious Surf "Gangs"
While surfing is often associated with a laid-back, friendly vibe, the sport also has its dark side marked by territorial surf gangs fiercely protecting their local breaks. Anyone who has done a good amount of surfing has encountered a local in the lineup who doesn't like seeing new faces in the water. But there have been a few instances where that localism goes a few steps further than just some jawing back and forth in the water.
The Roots of Surf Gangs: Surf gangs typically emerge as a result of localism, the desire to protect cherished surf breaks from outside influence, and the impact of overcrowding. When a surf spot becomes popular, tensions can arise between local surfers and visitors. Now i'm not debating wether or not that is something that is justifiable or not. In my mind it's a case by case basis. Regardless of how you feel about localism and tourists in the lineup. That is what leads to the formation of tight-knit groups determined to preserve their home break, and we see this happen in places with the best waves that gets the most coverage. I doubt you will see a surf gang at your local 2-3 ft always on shore spot. These gangs often use intimidation tactics and, in some cases, violence to assert their dominance and maintain control over their waves.
- Da Hui - Hawaii: Da Hui, established in the 1970s on Oahu's North Shore, was formed in response to the commercialization of surfing and the influx of outsiders at local surf breaks. The group sought to protect the interests of Hawaiian surfers and preserve their local waves. Some founder names might be a little bit familiar. Old school locals like Eddie Rothman, and Clyde Aikau among them. Known for confronting and intimidating visiting surfers. If you've ever seen the classic surfing movie "North Shore" you've seen the editorialized version of these tactics. Da Hui has since evolved into a big brand and an influential force in professional surfing, even hosting the annual Backdoor Shootout at Pipeline. Their aggressive reputation is not forgotten, and they have been replaced by other similar groups like the wolfpak.
- The Bra Boys - Australia: Emerging from Maroubra Beach in Sydney, Australia, the Bra Boys gained notoriety in the 1990s. Another subject of a surfing movie, albeit not as much a classic as North Shore. This infamous surf gang includes professional surfers, mixed martial artists, and even convicted criminals. They are known for their extremely violent clashes with rival gangs and riots with the police. Despite their controversial reputation, the Bra Boys also have a strong sense of community and support local charitable causes. The group has been disbanded, and infamous head of the Bra Boys, Tony Hines was found on the cliffs of Maroubra with 3 gunshot wounds to the head in 2003.
- The Lunada Bay Boys - California: The Lunada Bay Boys, a group of affluent, middle-aged surfers from Palos Verdes, California, have been terrorizing visiting surfers for decades. They aim to maintain exclusivity at their surf break by employing tactics such as verbal harassment, vandalism, and physical assault. Being a local in the Los Angeles area we have all heard stories about a friend of a friend who went down to Lunada bay on a big swell and got his car scratched up or threatened. After a run in with a tourist which left him in critical condition the Lunada bay boys were disbanded, and the clubhouse built from driftwood was dismantled by the local police. Regardless, Lunada bay remains heavily localized.
Some people say that these tactics go too far, and maybe in some ways they are right, but these people would probably tell you that they are just trying to protect something that has been shared within their community for generations. In some ways they might be right too. Thats the problem, like many other things this isn't so black and white. What is black and white is this. When you go to a new place. Respect the rules, respect the locals. Thats the best way to stay safe, and it's the right thing to do.