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Lunada Bay Visitors Want Locals To Let Them Ride The Waves

Considered Southern California's premier big-wave surf spot,  waves at Lunada Bay can reach up to 20 feet overhead in the winter months.
Denise Guerra
Considered Southern California's premier big-wave surf spot, waves at Lunada Bay can reach up to 20 feet overhead in the winter months.

The sun looks like a huge fireball setting over the cliffs of Lunada Bay.

Fifty miles past the congested freeways of Los Angeles, the picturesque bay is considered home to Southern California's premier big-wave surf spot. Waves here can reach 15 to 20 feet when conditions are just right, due to the unique shape of the ocean floor. A deepwater reef, which coupled with a winter swell creates large waves that break evenly and consistently.

It's a hot commodity in California's surf real estate, where surfable waves are hard to predict and unsteady.

Under California's Coastal Protection Act, everyone should have access to the beach.

But for decades a group of locals, nicknamed the Bay Boys, used violence and intimidation to keep beachgoers away. In March, a federal class-action civil lawsuit seeks to impose a gang injunction and fines against the Bay Boys.

Opportunity And Access

Diana Milena Reed, an inspiring big wave surfer, and Cory Spencer, a police officer from El Segundo, Calif., are plaintiffs in the case.

"I was walking toward the water," Reed says. I was approached by a man, immediately the man started screaming at me and yelling profanities and saying I can't surf there."

Spencer's experience surfing Lunada Bay involved a physical confrontation in the water. He says a Bay Boy charged into him with his surfboard, resulting in a gash on his right wrist.

Access to public beach, and especially surf, can be contentious in parts of California.

"Good surfable waves sort of come in limited numbers and there's a lot of surfers out there who want them," says Chad Nelsen, CEO of the Surfrider Foundation, a nonprofit that lobbies for coastal access.

It's not uncommon for locals to hassle outsiders, according to Nelsen. Surfing culture operates with a series of unwritten rules of decorum — like waiting your turn to catch a wave or not cutting people off as they ride — in other words give respect to the people who know the waves best.

"If you show up and you give respect to the locals and recognize you're a visitor, you know, no one's gonna hassle you, in Lunada Bay, the case is that they don't even give people the opportunity," said Nelsen.

Affluent Men, Decades of Intimidation

The eight alleged "Bay Boys" listed as defendants in the lawsuit include Sang Lee, Brant Blakeman, Jalian Johnston, Michael Rae Papayans, Angelo Ferrara, Frank Ferrara, Charlie Ferrara and Nicolas Ferrara.

Most of the men are in their 40s or 50s and reside in million dollar homes in and around the area.

According to the lawsuit, the Bay Boys are accused of blocking access to the public beach by shooting pellet guns, throwing rocks, shouting profanities or physically assaulting outsiders who step foot on the public beach.

Some beachgoers often return to find their vehicles vandalized and their stuff thrown in the water. When he first came to surf Lunada, Officer Spencer was so worried about his property that he paid a security guard $100.

When reached for comment, Angelo Ferrara, an auto-body shop owner, said the allegations were false. Others did not return calls.

Some of the men are known to travel around the world to surf, including Jalian Johnston, who sells $700 art made from "beach found" items in local Palos Verdes Estates shops.

A City's Alleged Indifference

"The response is always the same: City leaders acknowledge the problem, promise to do something, and then do little or nothing," reads the lawsuit about the city's failure to rein in the Bay Boys.

The suit also names the city's police chief Jeff Kepley as a defendant in the case. He and his department are accused of allowing the harassment to continue unchecked.

It's an accusation the chief will not talk about due to pending litigation.

In an email statement, Kepley wrote, "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."

Last year, two undercover reporters from The Guardian filmed their interaction with police, after being harassed at Lunada Bay.

Inside police headquarters, a police officer can be heard telling them, "You, know it is, what it is ... If you feel uncomfortable, then you know, don't do it."

The lawsuit still needs to be certified and heard in court, before any potential action can be taken.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit

Corrected: April 10, 2016 at 10:00 PM MDT
In the audio, as in a previous Web version, we call Chad Nelsen the president of Surfrider. His correct title is CEO. The previous Web version misspelled his last name as Nelson.
Denise Guerra
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