Locals Only – The Dark Side Of Surfing

Surfing came into my life by accident, literally. A 40 foot ground fall that should have killed me landed me in a wheel chair for 6 months and ended my rock climbing career. With 2 bad feet from climbing and 2 bad shoulders from years of whitewater kayaking, I was searching for a new low impact sport. Enter surfing.

As with everything in my life, I dove in head first. After spending 2 weeks at my friends surf school in Costa Rica (School Of The World – Thanks Zach), I returned to the states and bought a bunch of surf boards. My real lesson in surfing started as I began the daily routine of paddling out at the Venice Pier in LA. The Venice Pier is notoriously thuggy and very localized. Just rent the movie Lords of Dogtown. It’s basically a bunch of drug dealers and gang bangers out there surfing. But this wave was right in front of our apartment and I therefore considered it my home break.

From the lineup I could see the massive graffiti spray painted on the side of the pier reading “NO KOOKS”.  I guess I knew they were talking about me because every day they would yell, “Hey, get outta here KOOK”.  The pinnacle of my first year of surfing occurred when the pack sent a 10 year old kid over to tell me to get the F#ck out of the water.  I didn’t know all the cool hand signs, I had no tattoos on my neck, and I wasn’t ready to be “beat in” to the gang. Plus that kid was pretty scary. I left and didn’t go back.

Due to the freedom of my travel schedule, over the next year I surfed more breaks in California than most guys surf in years. I hit all the “local” spots and was yelled at and threatened many times, but I never left the water again. Most surfing breaks are friendly, so long as you follow the rules: Don’t drop in on anyone, share waves, and respect everyone in the line-up (I added that last one). Some spots are more localized than others, but for the most part surfing has been a good experience.

There are a couple waves in El Salvador that are super local. La Bocana is right in front of our bungalow and it is one of those spots. If you paddle out at La Bocana, the first thing you see from the line-up is a giant sign that says “Only Locals” (see photo below). If you have trouble reading it, some guys will paddle over and help you. Having taken my fair share of abuse over the last couple years, I didn’t think much of it until the surf photographer told me about “the incident”. Nine years ago one of the locals paddled in and pulled out a shot gun. He fired several rounds into the line-up yelling at the gringos to “get out of here”.  Nobody was hurt, and it was 9 years ago, but then again it was ONLY frikin 9 years ago! There is an ‘MS’ painted at the end of the sign below, but not seen in the photo unless you click on it. It stands for Mara Salvatrucha, better know as MS-13. They are one of the most violent street gangs in the US and they come from none other than El Salvador.

It’s been hard getting use to this aspect of surfing. I never experienced this in my years as a whitewater kayaker and rock climber. At the end of the day I guess it comes down to one thing: waves are a limited resource. Only one surfer per wave, only 4-5 waves per set, and only a few hours per day when the ocean is perfect for surfing. It’s true of the world, and it’s true of surfing – limited resources drive human beings to fight.

I still paddle out at La Bocana every day, but I sit way out on the shoulder out of the way. I take the waves nobody else wants. And I wear ear plugs. TREE

Nice street art. Of course the “Welcome Everyone” does not apply to La Bocana…

More cool street art scattered around Tunco…


  1. localism sucks

  2. An aspect of surfing I never knew about . . . your insights are right on.
    You've been so thoughtful about avoiding "dangerous" areas and people in your travels, taking risks only when it was really worth it. But there is no escaping the anger of impoverished people, who will fight to protect the only things they have left, whether its their "honor" or their turf – in this case, their waves . . . .
    Sorry about all that. Be safe Tree.

  3. Shot gun? Yikes-people need to chill-ax

  4. That whole "locals only" bullshit with surfers never made sense to me but you explain it well. Still it sucks though. Sounds like you have it figured out for staying out of trouble. Those locals need to be reminded of the economic benefits that travelers passing through provide their community.

    • Anonymous says:

      Except that most of them dont see any of these riches. They just lose more and more of their home turf to the rich gringos. You really need to wait to be invited before you enter someones house. Dont just walk in and hit the fridge. Then leave dirty dishes. That how we are viewed in most parts of the world.

  5. You are doin the right thing by hangin back. Maybe they will eventually extend an invitation. I've never traveled like you two have, but in my limited journeys with other cultures in the states, it's always paid off to learn what I can about the customs and to hang back until I get direction. Patient tenacity can get folks far.

  6. Have you seen Quicksilvers new Flak jacket?

  7. That gives a whole new meaning to the duck dive

  8. Now thats what I call getting barreled!

  9. Yeah Tree, watch out for the "Spray"!

  10. So was that a Hollow Point?

  11. Do they et Stevie surf?

  12. LET

  13. Nice. You guys are funny. They probably would let Stevie surf there, as long as she was in a bikini. Whatever. I'm gonna start my own club at my own wave and I'm not gonna invited anyone.. Not even YOU! TREE

  14. I am glad you are being safe, but that picture of you in the hospital bed about gave me a heart attach. Take care! Aunt Debby

  15. ey big tree espero que estes bien cuidate eres cabron muy cabron. …

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