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Surf turf disputes at Windansea draw increased police attention after violent altercation

Surfers catch their final waves of the day at Windansea Beach in La Jolla.
(Kathryn Anthony)

In light of a recent altercation in the water at La Jolla’s Windansea Beach, the San Diego Police Department is increasing its patrols of the area, including having officers work overtime.

The afternoon of Aug. 13, a male surfer and some others in the water got into an argument that led to “throwing some punches” and the surfer being held underwater for “what he estimated was about 30 seconds,” according to SDPD Officer Brian Avera, who oversees investigations in the department’s Northern Division, which includes La Jolla. The surfer did not give a reason for the argument in his statement to police.

“It was a very dangerous situation,” Avera said. “If anyone has been taken underwater and thought they were going to die, that is going to get our attention.”

The investigation is continuing, Avera said.

There have been problems at Windansea for years, “almost to the point that it is a generational issue,” Avera said. But this was the first major altercation to be reported to the Police Department, he said.

“In general, we have had fights in the area … that are more of a territory thing; people feel it is their area to surf,” Avera said. “So we are certainly going to be vigilant and make sure we are allocating our resources throughout La Jolla to make sure it stays safe. We are dedicating more personnel, seven days a week, even overtime, to the area.”

“We want people to know they are safe going to the beach,” he added. “Our officers ... are out there with a difficult job to do, and they are doing everything they can with the resources we have.”

Bill Fitzmaurice, president of the Windansea Surf Club, said disregard for surfing etiquette can lead to disagreements, though he and the club “do not condone violence.”

Windansea, he said, “is not a novice wave, it is not a place for beginners. ... It breaks harder and faster than places like La Jolla Shores.”

The problem with beginners riding the waves at Windansea is “they can be a danger to themselves or someone else. They can hurt themselves, or if their board gets loose, it can hit people,” Fitzmaurice said. “Plus, these beginners don’t always know when they are cutting someone off. Let’s say you paddle out and don’t give any respect to the locals and don’t wait your turn when a wave is coming — that is going to get you in trouble. Odds are someone has been waiting 10 minutes for a wave, and they aren’t going to like it if you come in and take the first one.”

He said he was unaware of the Aug. 13 altercation and was unable to comment. But he said disputes and fights over territory “happen at every beach, not just Windansea.”

“The reason it happens, typically, is lack of etiquette and a bad attitude,” Fitzmaurice said. “Assuming you know better than the locals is a bad idea. Yes, it is a public beach and doesn’t belong to anyone, but some of us surf there every day.

“If you paddle out, show respect and be patient. People will see you and remember that. If you are cool with locals, you’re going to have a good time.”

Fitzmaurice, who has surfed the area since 1971, said that “back in the day, it was a rough place to surf; you had to be invited to surf there.” But that attitude has toned down, he said.

Violence, especially in the water, is against the Windansea Surf Club’s mission statement, he said, which reads that the club is “dedicated to promoting excellence in our ocean and community, preserving and respecting Windansea’s past, protecting ocean and coastal environments, fostering a positive image of surfers locally and globally through charity and competition, and supporting our youth for a brighter future.”

The club engages in beach cleanups, surfing outings for people with disabilities and the Menehune Surf Contest for children.

“Talk to the lifeguards, watch things for a while and you’ll learn the etiquette, which is to be courteous, be patient, be respectful,” Fitzmaurice said. “If you’re a beginner, go to a beginner beach.” ◆