On a recent Friday afternoon, a contented gaggle of 30-plus surfers jostles for waves off Malibu's Surfrider Beach, not far from the eternal frustration that is the PCH.
The surf is only 2 feet or so, not much for this traditional long-board venue. As the surfers float, four local dudes gossip about a girl. Yards away, a bearded father tutors his 8-year-old daughter about the right way to catch a wave. Two Japanese tourists struggle with their hired soft-top boards and a couple of impressively athletic 60-something guys display their wave-catching skills.
It's a typical scene for any Malibu beach — which is why it's so unusual.
Ten years ago, this beach was a scene for stalwart locals only, with near-militant territorialism, a kind of long-boarder racial cleansing that ignored the fraternal spirit of surfing and even spawned a local gang, calling itself Malibu Locals Only (MLO).
The MLO was staunchly pugilistic in defending “their” hallowed beaches. They attacked outsiders, vandalized cars and tagged MLO around Malibu. Privileged kids on an idyllic beachfront town laying claim to their turf.
In 2004, MLO members, in a party fight with Valley-based teens, left one brutally injured. Police files show that the kid was attacked by about 10 young men and was beaten about the head, until he was unconscious. Due to his head injuries, the victim had short-term memory loss for months afterward.
Other nasty attacks followed.
But five years later, sitting alongside Surfrider Beach surfers on this Friday afternoon, it's obvious that MLO has run its course.
The core group of troublemakers grew older, moved on. Changing demographics in an ever-more-expensive Malibu brought in different kinds of residents. And as surfing continued going mainstream, more out-of-towners came to the beach. A communal spirit took root.
“I've lived here all my life but seldom know people when I surf the beaches in Malibu alone now,” says Robert, 37. “As long as people are respectful of me when they ride, I couldn't care less where they are from.”
Asked about MLO's reign, Detective John Manwell of Lost Hills Police Station Calabasas isn't convinced the MLO was a gang.
“It was simply a local group of kids,” Manwell says. “There are definite rules relating to what constitutes a gang, and the MLO didn't come close to fitting that classification. It was simply a large group of youths, surf-based, mostly stemming from surf codes, with none of the trademark signs, including guns, drug deals, breaking and entering. Just petty crime, such as graffiti and some party fights.”
Malibu's new mayor, Jefferson “Jay” Wagner, owner of Zuma Jay Surfshop, has an understanding of Malibu localism.
“They weren't the everyday gang members,” Wagner says. “They weren't exactly living on the edge or on the fringes of society. They were kids with very comfortable and pampered lives, often on big allowances, the children of professional parents, doctors or lawyers.”
At 35, Pat Ryan is an MLO “elder,” who was involved with the gang for about 20 years. “Nowadays, the whole thing has dissipated,” he says. We have no problem with surfers from other nearby areas coming … “
Robert adds that the MLO's rule is definitely over. He claims that these days, definitive enemy to locals are the paparazzi. He theorizes that these people are generally parasitic, and profit from high-profile locals, citing an incident late last year, when 12 locals attacked paparazzi who photographed actor Matthew McConaughey as he surfed off Zuma Beach.
Robert made no mention of a habit that celebrity handlers have of notifying photogs prior to public appearances, or of the eternal need for content from entertainment news providers, a mainstay of L.A. culture. Ahh, never mind. Hang ten, dude.