What to Know
Nearly 60 police reports have been filed alleging harassment, threats and vandalism involving the Bay Boys surfer gang dating back to 1995.
A lawsuit accuses the Bay Boys of being a gang that uses intimidation to keep outsiders away from a surf break in Lunada Bay.
Some residents in the community have called Bay Boy "localism" urban legend.
The number of reported accusations of harassment, battery, assaults and vandalism by an alleged Southern California surfer gang at the center of a lawsuit has spiked over the last two decades, an NBC4 analysis of police reports shows.
So far this year, police have recorded 10 reports related to "surf localism" involving the Bay Boys at Lunada Bay in Palos Verdes Estates, according to police reports obtained by NBC4 under the California Public Records Act. That's up from three reports in 2015 and six in 2014.
In a 21-year period dating to 1995, police recorded 58 reported incidents, including rock throwing, car doors scratched, tires flattened, profanities shouted, fists thrown and surfer cutting off surfer in the water, records show. Fourteen of those cases were classified by police as "surfer incidents" -- fights with no arrests, tires punctured, verbal harassment and verbal threats, documents show.
Eight were for reported cases of harassment, eight for battery, six for assault, and five for vandalism. Most of the reports involved accusations of harassing nonlocal surfers, but a few involved harassment against people taking pictures or video from the cliff.
The issue of surf localism — in which surfers intimidate outsiders to protect a beach break — surfaced earlier this year when a lawsuit was filed to try to bar Bay Boys from intimidating non-locals. While some have dismissed Lunada Bay's surf localism as urban legend, city records illustrate the ways in which Lunada Bay surfers have allegedly discouraged strangers from surfing a treasured surf spot in one of Southern California's most exclusive beachside communities.
According to a 2014 complaint made to police, one surfer who was described in the report as looking "Tom Cruise like" with dark hair, blue eyes and average build, paddled over to another surfer and said, "I wanna kill you right now, but I don't wanna go to jail because the surf is so good."
Other times in recent years, surfers were suspected of flattening tires, arguing, throwing rocks and tossing property into the ocean. Few surfers have been arrested, partly because the people reporting the incidents chose not to press charges or the police couldn't locate the culprits.
The news comes as a lawsuit playing out in court alleges that local surfers have behaved "like a gang." It asks a federal judge for an injunction that bar the group from congregating at beaches in wealthy Palos Verdes Estates south of Los Angeles for five years.
"Surfers all over California have been denied for 40 years," said Kurt Franklin, one of the attorneys who filed the lawsuit. "This is a public beach. It's not a private beach."
Police Chief Jeff Kepley said this year that the department has stepped up patrols to try and prevent problems at Lunada Bay.
"The city of Palos Verdes Estates and its police department are committed to protecting the safety of all those who live, visit, shop and recreate in the city," he said in a statement, declining further comment. "Our Police Department takes seriously its public safety mission and has and will continue to monitor and enforce the laws in Lunada Bay specifically and indeed everywhere in the community."
Among the three plaintiffs named in the case are Cory Spencer, a 45-year-old El Segundo police officer and experienced surfer, Diana Milena Reed, 29, of Malibu, who's an aspiring big wave surfer and the Coastal Protection Rangers who work to protect beach access. They accuse the city and its police department of looking the other way. The plaintiffs also allege the Bay Boys illegally claim as turf the break there and have erected an illegal "Rock Fort" made of masonry, rock and wood that overlooks the waves from the beach. Just this week, the California Coastal Commission ordered the city to take the illegal fort down.
Alan Johnston, one of the alleged Bay Boys named in the lawsuit, was arrested this year when Reed reported that he flashed her. Prosecutors declined to file charges, saying there wasn't enough evidence to file criminal charges.
John Patrick Carey, Johnston's lawyer, said his client didn't do anything wrong, that Reed exaggerated her claims, and that he was covering up while changing his wet suit.
Carey said he plans to argue to a judge to have the lawsuit removed from federal court and said that calling the Bay Boys a criminal street gang is insulting to victims of street gang violence.
"It's innuendo and allegations based on stories," he said.
Spencer said he got up the courage in January to try and surf Lunada Bay but only with a group of eight others whom he met through a Facebook group. He said he was verbally heckled and was run over by a surfboard in the lineup.
He said he knew that he and his companions wouldn't be welcomed with open arms.
They even paid a man $100 to watch their cars while they were in the water so they wouldn't get vandalized.
"They're notorious," he said. "For 40 or 50 years they've been controlling this bay. When you paddle out here, if you're not hassled, you're a Bay Boy or an affiliate of them. That's just the way it is here."
Christopher Taloa, a surfer from Hawaii, said he's surfed around the world, but hasn't seen localism like this.
"They're looking to create a disturbance," he said. "These guys are out of their minds."
Some residents believe the lawsuit is much ado about nothing and the negative press "will destroy our community reputation," one resident said in a letter to the city.
"I speak on behalf of my Lunada neighbors, when I express the deep concern we now face with regular media attention and the spectacle of a place our beautiful Bay has now become," wrote Paul S., a 45-year Lunada Bay homeowner, to city officials in February. "To my knowledge there have not been widespread reports of vandalism or bullying that the press and others have implied."
John Robert White, Jr. and Marilyn M. urged the City Council in February to focus on "real crime concerns."
"The 'fuss' about the Bay Boys is a complete waste of the city's resources," they wrote. "We are particularly upset in light of all the recent unprecedented burglaries and other major crimes that have occurred in our small area. Our current police chief is focused on something that has never been an issue, as he has stated in two separate newspaper articles. As residents of Lunada Bay since 1960, we would like the City Council to end this."