Surfers are stereotyped as being laidback, calm, and happy individuals. For the most part, that’s what they are, but there is also a side to surfing that definitely isn’t laidback.
As with all communities, surfers can be pretty territorial, and surf gangs are the extreme of that. Considered by many to be one of the worst aspects of surf culture, surf gangs can be found all over the world and can be very hostile to outsiders.
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What Are Surf Gangs and What is Surf Localism?
Surf gangs are born out of surf localism, whereby surfers become very protective of their local surf spots.
Excellent surf spots are rare and living near to one of these surf spots is even rarer. As a result, surfers become very protective of them and start to resent surfers from other communities when they take over.
Local surf gangs are formed as a way of “protecting” popular surf spots. They display territorial behavior and use intimidation tactics to keep other surfers away.
What is the Purpose of Surf Gangs?
Gangs are all about territory. For US gangs like MS-13, that territory is where they sell drugs and traffic guns. If they keep other gangs away while controlling residents through acts of intimidation, they can continue to sell contraband while ensuring the locals are too scared to stop them and the authorities are powerless to help.
For surf gangs, it’s more about protecting local surf breaks. As they grow from a small group of local surfers into a much larger and stronger force, there may be other elements at play, but for the most part, it’s all about surf localism.
Surf Gangs In California
California is home to some of the biggest gangs in the United States, with Los Angeles alone said to be home to over 45,000 active gang members.
Surf gangs are a small part of the problem, but they seem to be growing in size and popularity as they seek to “protect” the state’s beaches with intimidating and bullying tactics.
The Lunada Bay Boys
The Lunada Bay Boys gang formed in the 1960s on the Lunada Bay public beach in Palos Verdes Estates. It has been described as the most notorious surf gang in the United States and one that is never far from controversy.
A great deal of criticism has been levied at the Palos Verdes Estates Police Department, with many suggesting that they downplay the gang’s intimidating tactics. The police chief has even acknowledged that some officers in the department could have ties with the gang members and may treat them leniently as a result.
Lawsuits have been filed against the gang to try and stop their reign of harassment.
Bird Rock Bandits
The Bird Rock Bandits are an infamous surf gang based in La Jolla, California. They earned their infamy in the spring of 2007, when Emery Kauanui, a 24-year-old surfer, was killed in an altercation at a local bar.
Four members of the Bird Rock Bandits (Seth Cravens, Eric House, Matthew Yanke, and Orlando Osuna) were charged with his murder. The incident shook the small tourist town and the case received a lot of media attention.
Seth Cravens was later convicted of second-degree murder after he was discovered to have delivered the fatal blow. He was sentenced to 20 years in prison while the other three were given between 210 and 349 days after pleading guilty to involuntary manslaughter.
Following their release, the three members who escaped with lesser punishments were told to avoid bars, nightclubs, and alcohol/drugs for 3 years. They were also barred from spending time together. In 2009, they tested positive for marijuana and were caught drinking, spending time together, and visiting nightclubs.
They were sent back to prison, with the sentencing judge, John Einhorn, saying, “You guys blew it. I’m done being your cheerleader. At the time of sentencing, I clearly told you that you were getting the break of a lifetime.”
The Cito Rats
The Cito Rats formed in the late 1970s in Montecito, California. They staked a claim on a number of beaches, including those in Biltmore Pier, Pigeon Ridge, Dorbo Dunes, and Chicken Creek. The gang faded away during the 1990s.
The Westsiders are a Santa Cruz surf gang whose exploits were documented in the 2010 film, The Westsiders. The film features Jason “Ratboy” Collins, Darryl “Fela” Virostko, and Shawn “Barney” Barron” as they guide viewers through the history of the gang and its rivalry with the Eastside gang.
Surf Gangs In Australia
The Bra Boys are the most famous surf gang in Australia.
Named for the town of Maroubra, New South Wales, as well as the slang for “brother”, the gang was formed in the 1990s. Some members have the words “My Brother’s Keeper” tattooed across the front of their chests and the words “Bra Boys” on their backs.
The gang’s exploits were documented in the 2007 flick Bra Boys: Blood is Thicker Than Water, which was narrated by Oscar winner Russell Crowe.
Much of the gang’s activities are centered around Cape Solander, but their most notable actions have occurred away from the surfer, including a 2002 brawl at a local club in which 160 gang members fought with 80 off-duty police officers.
Surf Gangs In Hawaii
The Hawaiian Islands are home to some of the best surf breaks in the world, and everyone knows it. The locals that have enjoyed these breaks for generations can get a little frustrated when the tourists descend, and that’s basically why the surf gangs were formed.
Of course, Hawaii thrives on tourism, generating over $16 billion a year, and surf tourism plays a big part in that.
Visiting surfers might anger the surf gangs, but they also account for a sizeable chunk of the state’s income. Still, tourists aren’t always respectful, and so many local surfers are supportive of the gangs.
Da Hui (Black Shorts)
In the Offspring song, Da Hui, Dexter Holland sang, “I won’t fuck with da hui because Da Hui will fuck with me”.
Da Hui, also known as the Black Shorts or Hui O He’e Nalu (“Club of Wave Riders”), is one of the best-known surf gangs in the world.
Da Hui was founded by Eddie Rothman, Bryan Amona, Kawika Stant Sr, and Clyde Aikau on the North Shore of Hawaii in 1975.
Initially, they were tasked with patrolling surf contests but they were very territorial and aggressive toward foreign surfers. Today, Da Hui has around 400 members and hosts a number of annual events, including the Da Hui Easter Egg Hunt, and a paddleboard race that takes place on July 4th.
The emphasis has shifted from aggressive territorialism to community outreach and merchandise, but they still play a big role in the North Shore surfing community.
Membership seems to be closed, but there is a Da Hui website where you can purchase logo caps and other branded merchandise.
The Wolfpak was founded in 2001 on the island of Kauai and like Dai Hui, it focuses on surf breaks on the North Shore, prioritizing access for locals and keeping drop-ins out.
The Wolfpak was founded by Kala Alexander who chose the name because of the gang’s pack mentality, saying, “When you mess with one of us, you mess with all of us”.
FAQs About Surfer Gangs and Surf Culture
Are Surf Gangs New?
Surf gangs are not just a recent menace, and many of the biggest surfer gangs were formed during the 1960s and 1970s. However, they seem to be more prevalent today and they are also more violent. In many cases, they are indistinguishable from local street gangs.
What Does Da Hui Mean In Hawaiian?
Da Hui means “the pack”. The full name of the surf gang is Hui O He’e Nalu, which means”Club of Wave Riders”.
Is Eddie Rothman in Hawaii?
Eddie Rothman was born to a Jewish family in Philadelphia. However, he has spent decades in Hawaii and still calls the islands home.
What Is My Brother’s Keeper Australia?
“My Brother’s Keeper” is the expression that some members of the Aussie gang the Bra Boys get tattooed on their chests. It refers to the responsibilities that they have for their “brothers”.