What to do about the Ocean Beach marshmallow wars? OBceans Respond

by on July 19, 2013 · 13 comments

in Culture, Environment, History, Ocean Beach

OB Marshmallow aftermath 2013 02

Photo by Joe Ewing

In furtherance of the discussion of ‘what to do about OB’s marshmallow wars?’, we sent out an email asking community leaders, supporters of the OB Rag and other locals what their thoughts were on the future of the marshmallow tradition and how to enforce their suggestions / recommendations.

Rather than attempt to edit the thoughtful responses that we received, we’re simply printing verbatim what people’s ideas or recommendations are.  A few wished to be anonymous, so that is indicated.

Here then are the responses:

Jane Gawronski:

The marshmallow wars are out of control and from my perspective it is due to the media coverage. We had folks coming into OB just to participate in marshmallow wars. It’s a cool thing to do. Unfortunately, the number of people involved led to marshmallow carnage the next day. Cleaning up the beach is a necessity but who cleans up the sidewalks and streets? OBMA does clean up on Newport but Abbott and other streets were covered with marshmallows. I live on Coronado Ave and had marshmallows in our yard the next day.

I can identify the problems but have not come up a solution yet. Hopefully other respondents will do that. I do not want to give up the marshmallow wars … maybe confine the area.


The Widder Curry:

I think the marshmallow wars have evolved into a sadistic ritual that is no longer fun. Freezing the marshmallow; using “marshmallow guns”, etc. can cause injury if the person is hit in the wrong area. I hate to see it abandoned – maybe because I remember the “good old days.”

Perhaps there should be a “roped off” area where the “fights” can take place. They should not be frozen, and “guns” should not be allowed. Everyone participating – hand stamp, wrist band, etc., cannot leave until they have done their share of clean-up. Those participating in an un-designated area should be issued a misdemeanor ticket.

Wish something could be done about the traffic congestion too. Shuttles? One way streets? What an additional nightmare that is.



Yes they are probably a bit out of control. The only really effective way to curb it would be to stop having the fireworks for a couple of years?! It is so large all other attempts at control would be futile.


Donna Zoll:

On the morning of the 4th of July my neighbors parents knocked on my door and asked me to move my car up a little so they could get their RV parked. They had their grandchildren with them. While I was outside talking with them their six year old grandson asked me if I was going to take part in the marshmallow fights. I told him no. I prefer to eat my marshmallows. He told me his dad taught him how to heat up a marshmallow, roll it in the sand, and heave it as hard as he could at the side of someone’s head.

The idea that violence towards others was a planed family affair with no remorse was disturbing to me. I’ve never found damaging the environment, making messes, and disrespecting others any where near fun and entertaining. My hands are for making art and food, and snuggling cute animals.

Thanks a lot for showing some respect for OB by addressing this topic.

The marshmallow Wars are out of control. They come across as immature, abusive, and destructive to everything in their path. Adults are teaching their children to hurt others in the name of fun. It is not fun to hurt people in my book. We send a disrespectful message with our abusive behavior.

If the MW is not completely eliminated perhaps it should be turned into a sanctioned event with contests and prizes. There could be a designated biodegradable plastic covered area that is roped off. A carnival like area dedicated to marshmallow fun and games. Maybe even have teams. Maybe have an obstacle course or activities that are all in a contained plastic covered area. There could even be an entry fee that could go towards prizes. Have you seen the carnival game where the ducks are going along and the contestant shoots at them? People could be dressed as ducks and as they walk along they could have marshmallows shot at them. People could sign up to be ducks or to play other roles in the MW carnival. I would turn it into a contained carnival like participatory event. Marshmallow cream covered sun bathers; set the hounds loose.

Can we put a big cage on the beach and anyone making a mess outside the sanctioned mess zone can watch the fireworks from inside the beach cage. Maybe CMH can sponsor the beach cage; they can bring straight jackets.

The big problem is how do we cause people to care when they obviously do not care about people or the environment? As an Obecain I frequently feel used and abused by visitors that think OB means a big disrespectful free for all substance abuse fest.

A Marshmallow Carnival team could get together and organize this even like any event is organized. We have seen the duck tape outfits. How about some marshmallow outfits? What kinds of games and activities could involve marshmallows in a contained respectful way? Where could it be, what would it cost, what kinds of games and activities would be included. Get some of the biggest MW offenders to be involved. Teach them to get themselves under control.

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Craig Klein:

What started as a quaint little neighborhood diversion (which was a heck of a lot of fun for the participants) has gotten out of hand. Now that the out-of towners have decided that trashing OB is the way to top off their 4th of July celebration, it’s time to put an end to the ever increasing insanity.

Locals should not promote or talk up the marshmallow fight and should definitely not participate. Give it a couple of years and people will forget about it.


Robert Burns:

They are out of control. I saw such tex-and-drive-type A.D.D. that there was more focus on participating in the war than in enjoying the fireworks. It also has greatly expanded like urban sprawl.

I believe that it should be contained to the beach and not start until after the fireworks. Let the police do their thing rather than harass buskers.


Becky Brenemen:

My personal opinion as a resident of OB:  When I moved to OB two years ago I loved the small town feel. My husband and I have been involved in community service in OB, crime watches, beach clean ups, etc.

They lack of respect in OB by both residents and visitors is unreal and unacceptable. We intentionally left OB for the July fourth week end to avoid the disrespect and disregard party atmosphere.

We returned home late Sunday afternoon to broken beer bottles in our driveway and vomit under our kitchen window. I say no more marshmallow fight – period.

Come out as a community and ask for everyone to come and enjoy our beach but leave the marshmallows at home. No more promoting the fight. No marshmallow guns for sale at street fair, etc.

And how about respecting OB all year. Clean up our streets and show respect. Maybe others will respect OB as well. Ask for sdpd to support by issuing citations for disorderly conduct, drunk in public, etc. We will be leaving OB before next years festivities … it is a shame that people have such little respect for themselves and their community.

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Get rid of the OB fireworks, if people don’t agree to stop the Marshmallow wars.  Ssaw an old lady fall on the sidewalk because of the stickiness the day after.


Ed Decker:

Create a fenced, fun zone type of area where the marshmallow wars can happen. Charge a nominal fee to enter which will pay for clean-up, staffing and fencing. Check people as they enter to insure they only bring unopened bags of marshmallows (to prevent tampering). Maybe even include some blow up obstructions like they have in paintball courts. Blow a whistle. Let the mayhem commence.


Gretchen Newsom :

The Town Council will be discussing the Marshmallow Fight at our meeting on the 24th at 7:00pm at the Masonic Hall on Sunset Cliffs and Santa Cruz. We’ll be looking for input from the community on this “tradition” – should it continue or end? Should it be changed?

Personally (i.e. this is not an OBTC official opinion) – I feel like this event has gotten out of control and needs to be reigned back. I joined Surfrider and other Obeceans and spent over 4 hours on July 5th picking up the mess at our beaches and in our streets… and the mess is still evident.

It is absolutely disgraceful that Veteran’s Plaza is still in such disrepair – this is not how our fallen soldiers should be honored! If this event is something the community wants to keep, we should crowd-fund a professional cleanup effort next year; rope off an “official MM area”; create a media campaign to “save our streets”; and deter businesses from selling exorbitant amounts of marshmallows. Just a few ideas….


OB Cindi:

Create a restricted area away from the water by the lifeguard station (maybe the grass area) where you can be allowed to shoot marshmallows for a $10 charge – the ocst of cleaning up after your mess.

Have the OBMA collect the clean-up fee for each person who wants admission into the restricted area and shoot marshmallows and set up a fence of sorts so that people have to stay in that area.  And then have police on the quads patrolling the beach front to make sure no one is shooting off marshmallows.  Have big signs posted temporarily in the sand that warn ‘you will be fined xxx dollars if you shoot marshmallows in city perimeters outside of the approve, roped off area.



I’ve attended the OB Marshmallow fight once – in 2012 – and it is quite the event. It’s a great coming together of many people for the express purpose of fun, and it’s something that really can’t be explained; you just have to experience.

That being said, the annual marshmallow fight is an example of environmental recklessness. Plastic grocery bags full of leftover food and trash are left behind, feet from the rising tide.

The streets are such a sticky mess that your feet stick to the concrete making crossing the street quite a bit of effort. If you’re wearing flip flops, forget it.

I can’t imagine owning a business along that area of Newport and having to deal with the wreckage the following the day. The OB Marshmallow fight is best for those who get to leave before the clean up begins.

It would be nice if the litter, damage and sticky remnants could be minimized. This is a tradition that has been ongoing for years now and it’s a pretty unique one at that. But I personally don’t know how anyone could begin to go about doing that. From what I observed, the event pretty much takes on a life of its own.


Linda Taggert:

Wasteful anyway you look at it. Horrible for OB environment. Stop it completely. Too out of control if families are afraid to go down to the beach. This year the marshmallow throwing started before the firework show ended. And marshmallows were spotted up as far as Guizot.

Perhaps skipping a year of fireworks. Or not selling marshmallow in every store in OB


Terrie Relf

I won’t go down there any more as last year (i.e., 2012), I got pummeled by one with a rock in it and received a black eye and swollen face. I’ve heard of other people having similar experiences, too. Then, there’s all that sticky-gooey mush. Believe it or not, I actually got stuck and had to get pulled out!

While I loathe the idea of police intervention in what can be “healthy” fun for some, there are so many families with babies and little children down there, etc., and just imagine if someone were actually hurt. . .If that rock-filled marshmallow had hit an infant. . .So, perhaps guidelines that say small-to-medium marshmallows only? No marshmallow-shooters?


Gail Powell:

I would hope that OB would now take stock over the marshmallow situation and vow to do something about it. My suggestion: try and control the mayhem. Have a “Marshmallow Zone” blocked off with tape and have some “community volunteers” around to supervise. Yeah, maybe a few cool cops too. Keep the mess on the sand and off the streets where it becomes much more a safety hazard. Let it be known that if the Marshmallow Wars do not stay in the confined area and it becomes a marshmallow riot, OB July 4th Fireworks could be in jeopardy.

I would see this happening by having a meeting at the Rec Center or the Masonic place where locals could discuss the situation and come to a conclusion on it. Would hope that the OB Mainstreet Association would take a role in this. Perhaps we can hit up some of the big marshmallow companies for a “donation” or “grant” that could be used to clean up the mess after the 4th of July. Also, I would hope that OB would officially thank (offer a proclamation) to Surfrider & Coastkeeper for their initiative in going down there year-after-year and taking care of business on the beach.


Citizen Cane

Once upon a time I was a young person. I placed a lot of importance on seeing and being seen. That’s why I think our celebration of July 4th should be a daytime event. It should be a day of good, clean fun.

In the OB Rag I proposed a sort of marshmallow olympics, surfing contests, and dory racing. I say give the normal people some daytime options for fun, and take away the fireworks display. Yes, some people will still have their own fireworks, and some will continue to bully old ladies in the dark.

We can’t turn that off, like flipping a switch. But if we can reduce the size of the nightime crowd, then maybe the police can manage things better. Ideally though I’d like to see the fourth of July as a day when lifeguards work overtime, and the police have a normal Summer day. Maybe we need to give the bars and liquor stores a forced holiday.

There are environmental reasons to stop the fireworks. There’s also better ways to spend the money raised by the annual chili street fair. Most importantly we all need to accept the truth that we can’t celebrate our independence when we rely on China and Mexico to supply us with our fireworks, American flags, paper napkins, and plastic tablecloths. We really need to reinvent how we celebrate the fourth of July. Let’s do it with patriotism, mutual respect, and good, clean fun.

I think we should change the role of the volunteers that clean up trash on the morning after the holiday. Yes, they do an important job, but they are enablers in the process. They mask the cost of the damage to the city. I think that allows the city to be lax on citing people for littering. I say the volunteers should form a line parallel to the shore, and limit their actions to preventing trash from being washed into the ocean. Leave most of the mess for the city, and maybe they’ll see the true cost of having a fireworks show.

Ideas of  your own? Add them here in the comments and help keep this discussion going.

{ 13 comments… read them below or add one }

avatar Michael@DelMonte July 19, 2013 at 2:41 pm

I had never heard about this event despite living in San Diego for over 10 years. 3 years ago (when my girlfriends and I moved to OB) I heard of, and went to my first marshmallow fight. It seemed fun at the time; not realizing the ramifications. Last year (2012) I participated. I was confused/uninformed about the clean-up and end result. This year I noticed a difference in the “participants” and the way that people behaved. My girlfriend was hit in the eye by a guy with a PVC pipe. People were throwing marshmallows at the police officers, passing cars, non-participants and the like. I returned home to a deep feeling of regret to be part of an evolving problem in our community. I have realized this tradition has outgrown it’s intent. I will never participate in the event again. I don’t know what can be done to ban or control the situation next year, but if we all put our heads together I’m sure OB can come through with a solution.


avatar Jon July 19, 2013 at 4:07 pm

Hey Frank, Sorry I didn’t answer your email sooner. This was my 2 cents…

Personally, I wish it would go away. I haven’t been down there for years since I know it’s been out of control for a while. Remember the year Jim grant and I were the only two down there with soapy water and push brooms? I even tried to enlist the VFW’s help, but they didn’t seem to care. So this MM thing has been lame for a while. I think the only reason it’s getting so much attention this year is the pervasiveness of social media and the overall growth of the event. I had kids throwing marshmallows at me from their roof on cable & Narragansett!! Seriously, Wtf? That’s not how it works kids!

Naturally people are gonna say, “nanny state!” Or “party poopers!” “Quit banning stuff.” Which are totally valid concerns to have. But honestly, the only people I’ve heard that from either don’t live in this community, or haven’t been there in years. And none of those voices saying to keep the MM war were there to help clean up. So…. I think it’s the community that has to say, “we are tired of having to clean up your mess every year! Give it a rest!” Also… didnt they ban the Miss OB contest, and drinking in the street during street fair? We all survived, and the street fair is still a great event. Anyway… The real problem then is, how on earth to you stop a spontaneous tradition??

The answer:

You can’t. We’re fucked.

Seriously though. I have heard a lot of different proposals, and I really don’t think there’s a way to stop it other than turn the village into a police state or cancel the fireworks. Hell no to both of those.

So I think we just don’t promote it in the same way. We can’t ask businesses to stop selling marshmallows, shirts or guns. But I’ve heard most of the local businesses are taking note and will probably stop on their own. OBMA is taking a TON of heat. So I imagine they will be out persuading their members to tone down the promotion of the mm war. I think there was even an advertisement somewhere to “come for the fireworks & stay for the marshmallow war!” That shit needs to stop. So now we all chill out, wait till next year and make a concerted effort to get the word out that the locals hate this MM crap. Maybe put up one of those temporary orange construction fences along the wall with signs asking to have fun, but respect OB and keep it inside the orange fence? If you’re gonna do it, keep in the sand.

Hopefully better ideas come to light in the meantime.


avatar Debbie July 19, 2013 at 6:50 pm

It’s just one more thing for OB to “put up with” and have to clean up someone else’s mess. What good does it do for OB? Isn’t there a litter law on the books? If residents OB want to end the MM war, then the cops can ticket for littering…no? Whoever sponsors the fireworks show for OB can pay for additional police patrols.


avatar Tyler July 20, 2013 at 8:00 am

Really glad to see the tide turning. I felt like I was largely laughed at or ignored last year when I told any in the community this needed to be stopped/changed after seeing my girlfriend pelted with an egg and subsequently finding dozens of marshmallows in my BACKyard the next morning (I live in the heart of the war zone on Bacon).

This year was only worse, and we all saw it with our own eyes. As one of the younger people here who has been championing a ban, my opinion has definitely not been popular with many of my OB friends in the past, but I think they get it now. During the 4th I was at a day party and everyone began discussing how fun the fight would be later. I spoke up and asked everyone who would be waking up early with me to help cleanup our town. Most looked at me with a blank stare and some with scorn. As we made our way down for the fireworks, I could tell a lot of the people who were excited previously had definitely let my word sink in as they looked around and saw anarchy occuring on Abbott before the fireworks even started. Random objects being pelted at people. Several very large brawls occuring – one at veterans plaza, the other in the park at the end of Saratoga.

Afterwards was mayhem. I saw people pelting cars with marshmallows AND eggs on Brighton Street as they were heading home away from OB. Again I got dozens of marshmallows thrown into my backyard before I even walked home. I returned to my dog chewing away at one – glad I got home sooner.

The next morning was depressing. My girlfriend and I awoke early as we had plans for the US soccer game and wouldn’t have time to participate in the Surfrider cleanup. From 7:30 AM to about 9:30 AM, the two of us picked up roughly 60 pounds of trash. 60! Marshmallows, cans, bottles, food, eggs, cigarette butts. It was clear OB was absolute anarchy for a few hours that last night. I will say this, it was heartening to see others slowly waking up and joining the cleanup. But for every one of those people, there were 9-10 that I watched open their doors, stare at me or my GF for 5 seconds, then maybe say thanks and go about their day. So many people in OB want to enjoy the benefits without helping to make sure it stays an amazing and unique place. I think that goes beyond the marshmallow wars, and is indicative if a larger problem, but I digress……

I just want to see our 4th AND the few days following to be enjoyable for all OBceans AND visitors who come for the 4th and are respectful of our community. This needs to stop, and this can be solved. I don’t think the fireworks need to end, but if we as a community stop embracing it and start discouraging it, the tide will swing slowly but surely.

Also, I know any are against it, but I wouldn’t mind an enforcement crack down for just one year. They already put a ton of police here for the 4th as is – they could make a fortune handing out littering violations to marshmallow throwers. I’m also open to somehow regulating it on the beach, if that’s at all feasible.

Looking forward to the 24th


avatar Louisa July 20, 2013 at 8:38 am

I visit Dog Beach with my retriever fairly often. A year or two ago, I made the mistake of visiting DB the morning after. My dog found and scarfed down several balls of marshmallow sand before I realized what was going on.

As soon as I figured out what those nasty things were, we left promptly. The mess is really out of hand. It is dangerous for dogs and other animals who might be attracted by they sweetness of the marshmallows and disregard the fact there is sand mixed in with the food. Possibly dangerous for young children as well, if their parents don’t know to avoid the beach area for several days after the 4th.

Maybe some of the ideas for controlling the area and setting up some structure to the celebration would work. Or maybe it really is too big to control and needs to be stopped altogether. I don’t know. I don’t love the status quo though.


avatar Kenloc July 20, 2013 at 8:01 pm

Let’s not even get into the amount of waste this has become.Take all that money spent on marshmallows and you could have fed the homeless here for a month.
I’m sure watching people buy overpriced food for the sole purpose of flinging it at eachother looks different through the eyes of the guy digging through Hodad’s dumpster for something to eat.
Oh yeah,we shouldn’t feed the homeless.Almost forgot………


avatar Gary Gilmore July 20, 2013 at 8:23 pm

This is indeed a tough one. The younger contingents really enjoy the anarchy, chaos & adrenalin rush of a free-for-all marshmallow brawl. On the surface it sounds like fun, after all, how much can marshmallows hurt? It’s just good fun! To stop the MM fight would be, in my opinion, an exercise in futility. Fireworks are the grand finale of one of the biggest and certainly the proudest holiday of the year. Plus, the fireworks are a point of pride for the community. Cancelling the fireworks in an attempt to stop the MM fight would deprive OBeachans, their families & friends the time honored tradition of the holiday. To eliminate the fireworks would be wrong. As for the inevitable MM fight after the fireworks: it needs to be contained not by a cordon of volunteers who would, most likely, be ineffective as well as become easy prime targets and definitely not by the police who would become irresistible targets which could easily lead to a forceful response. I don’t think anyone wants to see headlines that read “San Diego police use Billy clubs and Tasers on fun loving, youths for throwing marshmallows”. But by encouraging voluntary restraint. Sounds implausible doesn’t it? Well, first, a “Keep it on the Sand” publicity campaign needs to be put in place. Press releases go out to print, television & radio media. A Facebook & Twitter blast would start to go out a week or so before the 4th. This campaign would encourage participants to “Keep it on the Sand”. Usually a radio station sponsors the Fireworks. This radio station would be asked to promote a more “Family Friendly Fight” that would strongly discourage the use of Marshmallow Guns, altered marshmallows (no hidden rocks, no frozen marshmallows etc.) and ask that participants keep the fight on the sand. On the 4th of July the lifeguard station would broadcast from their sound system frequent requests for participants to “Keep it on the Sand, Keep it Clean” and, “Hold Your Fire” until the fireworks are over. A banner emblazoned with “Keep It On The Sand” could be strung from light poles at the intersection of Newport & Abbott. Also, not allowing the sale of Marshmallow guns at the OB Chili Cook-Off & Street Fair.
I’d welcome any reasonable suggestions that would keep both traditions alive in such a way that would cast OB in a positive light. We have a little over 11 months to make this happen. I think we can do it. I love this place.


avatar Obecian July 20, 2013 at 9:45 pm

I’m for ending the marshmallow wars, seriously reconsidering the value of the fireworks to the community, and demanding that OBMA, OBTC, and the city take some leadership on the issue. While organizing the event into a controlled area sounds feasible; It won’t happen. Organizing the event means sponsoring it and with that comes liability. From what I know of the OBMA they aren’t going to take that on. OBMA needs to assess the cost and value of the fireworks to the community. In my opinion, the cost of the fireworks to the community doesn’t justify the event. Maybe that money could be better spent on daytime activities like Citizen Cane suggested.
As for City’s role, SDPD, Parks and Rec, and the lifeguards all have the ability to write tickets for littering ( and hurling marshmallows is littering) yet I have never seen anyone cited for littering. I’m not talking about just July 4th. OBMA, OBTC, and the local community must demand that these groups address the marshmallow wars and the overall issue of litter in our community.

I’m out of the country and I can’t make it to the OBTC meeting on the 24th but I hope someone raises these concerns.


avatar jim grant July 21, 2013 at 8:40 am

My 2 cents:
Never underestimate the stupidity of drunk people in a large group.
A LOT of the trash collected at the clean up on the 5th. was booze bottles and cans.
People go the the foot of Newport ready to raise hell…..they bring booze to get them to the happy place they seek.
A designated area , a wristband , a list of approved throwing items means nothing to drunk people in a large group.
You can’t force people to care about personal or public property , others or the environment. Selfishness is the dominate part of the personality of many people and that just won’t change.
Have another beer , smoke another joint and trash the community , then call upon Surf-rider and the public to clean your mess. Are these The Fine Quality people of OB who Respect OB and the Beach ? The Pigsty at the foot of Newport is the signature of the new breed of Ocean Beach residents I guess.


avatar Debra July 22, 2013 at 12:56 pm

You’re absolutely right.


avatar Tom G July 21, 2013 at 6:02 pm

Many of the others above have said exactly what’s on my mind. I tend to think that any sort of sanctioned marshmallow war is a mistake. Adding any legitimacy to it will only cause it to continue outside of the designated area. If it does happen that there is a designated area set up, let it be the pier parking lot where the police trailer is. We’ll see how long they tolerate that mess (and maybe they’ll see it for what it is, littering).


avatar dude July 22, 2013 at 2:07 am

It’s a disgrace and assault on our community. I’d like to see sdpd do their jobs and enforce the multitude of laws being broken. If people really respected the holiday’s meaning and tradition it would be ridiculous to think this is a viable or reasonable tradition to allow to continue.

And for the small group of “locals” who thought it was good fun, thanks…nice one!


avatar Joe Ewing July 25, 2013 at 9:16 am

Photo by Joe Ewing


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