Stolen surfboards returned after three years

In early 2013, La Jolla resident Jonathan Clark’s garage was broken into and surfboards bearing both sentimental and monetary value ($5,000) were taken while he and his wife slept. Clark immediately reached out to La Jolla Light for a story to get the word out and hopefully track them down. 

Although it took three years, having that story printed eventually paid off.

A few months ago, Clark said he got a phone call indicating that one of his boards — a rare Greek Surfboard, which was the first one he ever purchased when he was teenager — had been located by Bill Deneff of Huntington Beach, an avid collector of vintage surf and skateboards. 

Clark explained, “Bill loves Greek Surfboards, but hadn’t seen one like mine. He was really happy to have his hands on it. He looks into the background of every board he buys, including its history.” In the course of his online research, Deneff stumbled upon the Light article that detailed the theft. He immediately and reluctantly, got in touch with its former owner. 

“It was huge that Bill was such a good person to call me,” Clark said. “I offered to pay for it, but he declined the money.” 

Anxious to follow the trail of where the board might have been before making its way home, Clark ascertained that Deneff bought the board on eBay from Kristopher Tom, a vendor who sells surfboards online and at swap meet-style events. 

“I received the surfboard from someone I know who buys and sells boards on Craigslist,” Tom said. “He was in the South Bay of Los Angeles and said he bought about 65 boards from a ‘garage sale’ and to come check them out. I saw a half-dozen I liked, including the Greek, and bought the lot. I brought them home, and realized I could make a little money off of them, so I put them on eBay.” 

Clark later learned that it’s a thief’s practice to take stolen goods, especially if they are rare or easily identifiable, and move them away from where they were stolen, which is how the boards went from La Jolla to Los Angeles. 

“I assume thieves take the boards and go to a different city that might not be looking out for them and sell them there. The police suggested to me that there are a lot of people who come from other areas to the coast and steal stuff, then sell it at garage sales or sell it at a swap meet where someone wouldn’t recognize the stuff,” Clark said. 

Although rare, Tom said he has occasionally come across stolen boards. “Any collector group is going to look out for one another, and no one one wants to sell stolen boards,” he said. “When it happens, you do the right thing.”

In retrieving the board in Huntington Beach, Clark said he went to the Topanga area of Los Angeles where Tom sells boards at a board swap. Clark showed pictures and distributed fliers of the remaining missing boards to the various vendors so they could keep an eye out for them, optimistic his remaining boards might be found. Further, he said he regularly checks Craigslist and eBay listings and has re-committed to the search. 

“It was a needle-in-a-haystack situation to find my board,” he added. “It’s so hard to find stolen boards, and everyone I’ve spoken with is just shocked that it was returned. So while I would like to get them all back, I’m so happy to have this one, my first surfboard, back.”

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