Should Ocean Beach End Its Marshmallow Wars ?

by on July 1, 2010 · 55 comments

in Environment, Ocean Beach, Organizing, Popular, San Diego

Originally posted on July 16, 2009.

OCEAN BEACH, CA.  For 24 26 years now, OBceans have been lobbing marshmallows at each other once the fireworks die down on July 4th. Since it began in 1985 with warring parties of neighbors at the beach all the way to this year, hundreds if not thousands of participants have joined the virtual free-for-all around the bonfires.

But now calls to end this particular brand of totally-local OB shenanigan have surfaced – a lot because of speculation that the injuries of Chris Bowd – the unconscious homeboy  – had some connection to the Marshmallow fight – and because of the mess that the marshmallows have left on different areas of our waterfront.  Veteran’s Rock at the foot of Newport Avenue suffered greatly from the mess, for instance.

OB Rag readers have left a number of comments questioning the sanity of allowing this once a year sport to continue. Our blog began a poll about this (see the sidebar) and the Beacon even started a readers’ poll on the issue. In the current Beacon, at the tail end of an article about Chris Bowd, writer Anthony Gentile also raises the question whether the mushy conflict has escalated beyond its original safe boundaries. (The article’s history is a little off.) Here’s an excerpt:

Ocean Beach MainStreet Association executive director Denny Knox said the event should probably be scaled back a little bit.

“Every year it’s different – it depends who the players are,” Knox said. “I think they’re going to have to police themselves a little more carefully and agree to take it down a couple of notches.”

As of this writing, 69% of the respondents to the OB Rag poll want the Marshmallow Wars tradition to continue, although nearly half of those want some kind of controls placed on the event by volunteers, whereas 27% believe the event is out of control and want it to end.  3% wanted to study the issue.  At that time we had 62 respondents.

Ban the Marshmallow Fight?  Holy-dripping chocolate!

I immediately wanted to know what Rich Grosch thought about this, as I knew he had something to do with the origins of the event.  I contacted him via email and he told me he would give me a copy of an article that the Beacon ran seven years ago on the history of this controversy.

I picked up the article from Rich this morning and want to make it available.  (The Beacon does not have it in its online archival section.)  For its history, the Beacon interviewed Grosch and Doug Morton, and reported:

Grosch’s annual celebration of independence were rivaled only by those of Tom Zounes, who lived four blocks away on Muir Street.

On July 4, 1985, Grosch and friends were at the beach near lifeguard Tower 2 enjoying the annual fireworks display when they decided to find an alternate use for their s’more ingredients.

“(The Zouneses) were the next party over from the fire, so they seemed like a natural target, … it spontaneously erupted into a marshmallow fight,” said early participant Doug Morton.

Interestingly enough, the marshmallow war was not truly declared on Ocean Beach sand until Morton changed his allegiances.  After renting a home on Saratoga Street fro 13 years, Morton purchased a home on Muir Street in 1986, right next to the Zouneses.

That Fourth of July, Muir Street got its revenge.

“We couldn’t just let Saratoga pelt us again, so we worked on a catapult, using surgical tubing and PVC pipe and we actually went down to the beach and rehearsed launching bags of marshmallows at once,” Morton said.  “It was one of the funniest things you’ve ever seen.  Apparently my allegiance instantly defected to my new residence, it’s amazing what property taxes will do.”

Muir Street’s secret weapon was a success.  Assisted by the fact that the Saratoga Street party decided to celebrate the holiday with lighted headbands, Morton and friends had no trouble hitting their targets, hundreds of marshmallows at a time.

“They killed us.  I probably had a thousand marshmallows in my face.  That’s the last time we had the hats,” Grosch said.

The rivalry continued for a few years, until the two parties decided things were on the verge on being out of control and called a truce.  But at that point it was too late, a tradition had begun.

“That year when the fireworks were done, we started walking up the beach and all of a sudden marshmallows just started flying, the thing had taken on a life of its own,” Grosch said.

With this history under my belt, I approached Rich Grosch at his office and asked him about this new controversy on his old tradition.  As he works for an elected official, he only had a couple of minutes on this issue, understandably.

“I don’t want to be seen as the expert on the Marshmallow Wars,” he said right off the top. Rich offered up few new historical details, however, he confided that there’s always been some injuries during the conflicts. “My son once got hit by a yellow-tail one year,” he said.  Yellow-tail the fish.

Also, one funny thing happened – one year a platoon of cops had arrived to deal with the perceived out-of-control situation. The police officers advanced on the scene complete with plastic shields.  They started taking on hits – of marshmallows – of course.  When the commanding officer realized they were only being pelted with the gooey white blobs, he barked out: “Back on the trucks!” and they took off.

This year Rich saw the mess.  He is partners with others in the OB Hotel right at the corner of Newport and Abbott.  Their awning got hit and “we’re going to have to get it steam cleaned,” he said.

He agreed that there should be some kind of control. “Keep it on the beach,” was his response.  The War had always occurred at the fire rings near the Life Guard station.  But two years ago, Rich said, Police Chief Lansdown decided to expand it from the Pier to the Life Guard station.

This could be the source of the current mess. The area of conflict is too broad.  By keeping it only on the beach, other problems then possibly could be minimized.

I asked him point-blank: should the Marshmallow war be ended?

“You can’t,” he said immediately.  “It has a life of its own.”


{ 54 comments… read them below or add one }

Pat July 16, 2009 at 1:47 pm

Maybe containing to the beach and using cotton balls would help.


jim grant July 16, 2009 at 2:11 pm

Only Solomon could answer this question. But I will give it a try.
Fun is fun…but when you get people who are intoxicated or very close to it tempers can get out of hand very quickly especially if you get a burning hot MM in the face. Ask any doorman about the flaring tempers of over drinkers about the smallest of issues. A couple of thoughts.
1. If you participate in the revelry you take part in the clean up.
2. Cordon off two fire pits so everyone knows whats going on in the ” pit area” …. make it a competion with judges….all who take part clean up the mess.
3. You cant force people to do the right thing , some people just don’t give a rats ass about anything other than what they want. They make a mess and walk away, maybe it was the way they were raised.
4. You can be sure the SDPD will be looking for alcohol on the OB beaches next year.
5. Similar to many things in life its all fun and games till somebody gets hurt….Then it’s time to find somebody at fault and sue.


Dave Sparling July 16, 2009 at 2:57 pm

How about if we just flat outlaw fun in any form what so ever. Cancel the fireworks and replace it with read a bible to a cop night. Close all the bars and replace them with Christian Science Reading Rooms. Throw out all the old hippies and replace them with conservative right wing born more than one time republicans. For sure many of us would be upset but think of how peaceful and quiet it would be in Ocean Beach.


Brenda McFarlane July 1, 2010 at 11:20 pm

Oh my gosh, I couldn’t have said it better. My husband and I didn’t know about the Marshmallows our first year here and almost got hurt.. laughing ourselves silly and crawling around on our hands and knees picking up ammo ’cause we didn’t have our own! Now every year we try to sucker newbies into watching the fireworks with us without telling them what comes afterwards. Oh fun!


Doug Porter July 16, 2009 at 3:13 pm

tell us how you really feel, dave


jon July 16, 2009 at 3:24 pm

Pat – Cotton Balls! Hilarious! Next it’ll be q-tip sword fights.

Jim – I think you gave Solomon a run for his money. I’m pretty much in line with those answers. Unfortunately #3 is the real rub. You can’t force people to be decent human beings.

Dave – I see what you’re getting at, and I’m no fascist, but I still think there needs to be a line between having fun and destruction of property, and litter in the streets.

This isn’t the movie theatre or a stadium. Nobody’s getting paid to clean up after your mess.


Dave Sparling July 16, 2009 at 3:59 pm

Oh I agree Jon, anyone the following morning found with marshmallow residue on their person should be put on the clean up chain gang. But then I think the mounted horse cops should be given shovels and clean up their own horse poop.


Dave Gilbert July 16, 2009 at 4:23 pm

Just for the record,

It’s not that I’m against the M.M. fights/wars, I just don’t see the point in them.

Some may argue that they could also get out of hand and end up being not so mellow, which I certainly see happening.

It also leaves a huge mess for someone else to deal with.

Smoke ’em if you got ’em ;)


bodysurferbob July 16, 2009 at 4:24 pm

one of the points of this article, my dear landlubber friends, is that it has now a life of its own – there is no one “to stop it” unless the OB Rag is calling for more cops here, which I sincerely doubt.

put the MM fight BACK on the beach – apparently it was the police chief who allowed it to expand. WTF? keep it away from “private property” – it’s not like innocent people are getting hurt – it’s the people who participate – just like the running of the bulls, lane, jon, dave, dave, you take risks. while running from the bulls and you get gorged – uh, well, ummm, sorry, no one forced you to, right?


bodysurferbob July 16, 2009 at 4:25 pm

jim g, you’re on the right track


Man with a plan July 16, 2009 at 4:56 pm

bodysuferbob, you are right, no one forces anyone to do anything. But then, somethings come with the facade of family friendly thing unlike bull fighting which is obviously a sport with a high risk. The real question is what do we do with things like MM fight which is supposed to be safe playful fights, but then can turn into a hurtful thing. What do we do about those things.

-The man with a plan.


Brenda McFarlane July 1, 2010 at 11:24 pm

Does everything have to be 100% safe? Living life is dangerous… There are bad apples who will ruin things but it’s amazingly rare -considering- isn’t it?


BillRayDrums July 16, 2009 at 10:40 pm

I say we switch to tomatoes. They are far less gooey and are actually quite edible “after the fact”. Imagine the resulting spin-off festival “The great OB spaghetti cook-off” exactly the next day….. LOL!


Sunshine July 16, 2009 at 10:56 pm

I’ve got it! Next year we all sit quietly in a large circle around a specific firepit, sing Kum-bi-ya, and gently pass the marshmallows hand-over-hand from one another counter-clockwise.

Boring you say? Of course! Safe? Absolutely! Is it gonna go down like that next year? Can I hear a collective Hell to the No!

Now, I’m not one for anyone getting hurt, especially at what started out innocently enough between friendly rivals as fun and fair play. Yet, to end this festive tradition seems feels like a total bummer to me.

I was at the Marshmallow Fight this year and there was a lot less harmlessly lobbing marshmallows at one another over the firepit and a whole lot more strong armed missle fired shots going on.

I can certainly appreciate the thought of it returning to its original roots as a friendly rivalry, a ‘contest’ atmosphere if you will.

So, some basic ground rule suggestions for next years competition…

1) Large or small marshmallows only. Both pink and white acceptable. Both teams will start out with an equal amount of MM’s.

2)No hard objects of any kind or yellow fish allowed. Anyone lobbing hard objects or using super-human missle fired rockets will be elimated immediately and made to eat several sand-covered MM’s on the spot. Video taping the event will take place to ensure the safety of all participants.

3) Set a time limit (if that can be done in OB) and let the lobbing begin.

4) After time is up, all marshmallows are counted and the team with the least marshmallows on its side of the fire-pit is declared this years ‘winner’ and bragging rights for the year can begin!

5) The unfortunate ‘losing’ team must stay around until all traces of marshmallows are accounted for. Once they are all cleaned up, the losing team is welcome to walk away with their collective sticky tails between their legs.

6) To ensure that no surrounding business and/or memorials are left in the shape that they were this year, money can be raised by selling custom printed t-shirts can be sold for the ‘winners’ as well as the sand-eating ‘losers.’ Any money not needed to clean up, can be used the following year to purchase more MM’s and/or new t-shirts.

Just my thoughts.


BillRayDrums July 16, 2009 at 11:36 pm

I’m just gonna sit at home with my feline companion and smoke myself into a happy little cloud, ala’ Bob Ross. Seems that’s safest……


jon July 17, 2009 at 5:40 am

I think the best possible solution so far (and there have been some really unique ideas here) is to keep it on the beach. As Rich said, you can’t ban it. It has a life of its own now. So, to recap: No drinking on the beach, no smoking on the beach, no marshmallows off the beach?


jim grant July 17, 2009 at 8:53 am

Sunshine: all your suggestions might work to some degree with sober people. Or people who don’t have ” pent up sexual frustration which leads to physical aggression” ….

THe issue still remains : What to do about the mess?
It appears somebody tried scraping which was not very succesful. Since MM are a lot of sugar , water is probally a partial soultion.


jon July 17, 2009 at 9:45 am

I think hot water, soap (eco friendly of course) and maybe some scrub brushes. Not wire, but the type you might use on your dishes. If we could get even 3 or 4 of us together with those supplies I’ll bet we could clean it up. I’m in if I can get some help. What do you think folks?


jim grant July 17, 2009 at 2:02 pm

Jon at 3:24………I was raised this way…..Trash can are at locations for a reason. When I go to the movies I put my trash under my seat, when I leave I take it to the trash can at the rear of the building. At Westgate Park, San Diego Stadium, The Murph, Qualcomme and Petco I do the same. I was raised that way. I realize not everyone was. It is what it is. The City could save millions if people did not litter.


jon July 17, 2009 at 3:35 pm

I think my earlier post might not have come across the way I meant it. I’m not saying it’s ok to litter at those places either. But I think there is a certain rationale among some less conscious persons that someone is getting paid to clean it up, so they leave their trash behind. Still doesn’t make it ok.


Editor July 18, 2009 at 12:26 pm

Final Results of Poll:
38% said keep it as OB tradition;
33% said keep it with volunteers’ controls;
28% said get rid of it, it’s out of control;
3% want to study the issue. Results were over 100% due to rounding-off. We had 80 respondents in one week.


jim grant July 20, 2009 at 6:55 am

Hopefully we will see that 38% at the seawall cleaning up the mess. I can’t see how 20 minutes of fun is worth the mess, but thats just me.


jon July 20, 2009 at 7:54 am

I’m no math wiz, but I think that’s about 30.5 people that will be down there to help clean up! Awesome, that will take about 15 minutes with that sort of turnout! lol.


Catherine July 21, 2009 at 9:47 am

I’m not sure how you can ban it because it does have a life of its own. Are you going to arrest people carrying marshmallows? Or only arrest people who throw them? I really don’t see the point of the wars. It’s really not much fun as people are trying to fire them point blank at your face. And not everyone on the beach knows it’s coming. Some people on the beach may be there for the first time. So they can really opt-out.

I’m not sure why the police chief would have expanded the territory. It should be contained. Even if people aren’t drinking on the beach (as much as they used to) they are still drinking all day in the bars and at their own homes and coming for the fireworks/wars later.

Seems the only solution is to contain it to a smaller area.


ilovetheoutdors July 1, 2010 at 11:30 am

I can and will donate my time and my power washer this year if needed . I can wash the sidewalk with high pressure water only ?


just my 2 cents July 1, 2010 at 7:29 pm

You have to capture the water……you down ?


Peyton Farquhar July 1, 2010 at 12:44 pm

The solution is easy: if you want to act like a 2 y/o and toss around marshmallows and get shitfaced drunk, then you must register for the event with a valid ID. That way law enforcement has your name if you decide to let your Id dictate your behavior.


Kristin C. July 1, 2010 at 12:58 pm

I didn’t even participate in the marshmallow fight last year, but I have many years previously… it’s fun, it’s (relatively) harmless, and like with all the trash that the tourists leave on our beach after holidays, volunteers DO clean it up.

OBSteven & I both helped scrub the Veterans Memorial last year, and I know a lot of other folks did too. Just like the people who will clean up after the tourists leaving their trash all over our beach, people will clean it up. Keeping it on the beach is ideal, and having participants in the fight help with cleanup the next day is ideal too… but it’s just too fun of a tradition to outlaw. The Man has already taken away so many of our rights – seriously – we want them to ban a MARSHMALLOW FIGHT??? Ridiculous.


Kenloc July 1, 2010 at 4:58 pm

I notice how many comments there are on the mess it creates. I know you guys have seen the beach after a holiday weekend.There is a huge mess with or without a marshmellow war.No alcohol,no marshmellows,no fireworks.What the hell is wrong with california anyway?Let’s just close the beach entirely on holidays.That oughtta keep people from having fun for sure.


just my 2 cents July 1, 2010 at 7:35 pm

It’s not about ” closing the beach” its about not being a shit head and making a mess and thinking somebody else will clean it up, thats what 2 yr olds do.


jettyboy July 1, 2010 at 8:05 pm

Seems to me there are always gonna be people who feel the need to “regulate” something. That in turn gives the activity some kind of official validity, which makes for more regulations until the activity is destroyed, discontinued, or made family safe. People are celebrating 4th of July, you know independence and all that. I’m sure there must have been some folks who wanted to regulate independence back in the day, but they were probably just ignored, or shot. I doubt without alcohol the marsh-mellow fight will not be as “out of control” as in years past, but if it is so what?
Don’t like it, don’t go, but stop trying to impose your views of what’s right & wrong, how it should be and how it shouldn’t be on others just having some fun. It’s different every year that’s one of reasons its fun. The only regulation should be self imposed. Don’t like the marsh-mellow fights, DON’T GO to the marsh-mellow fights, simple.


just my 2 cents July 1, 2010 at 8:17 pm

i just dont like stepping on all the shit FROM the MM fight …plain n simple.
who cares make the concrete sidewalk/veterans memorial a shit hole like the rest of ob….somebody will clean it…go party get high get drunk sleep in …it will be clean by the time the a holes get around to thinking about it….
it all depends on how you were raised i guess…..
regulate…hummm no just think before you act.


Dave Rice (a.k.a. psd/anonymouscoward) July 1, 2010 at 8:27 pm

I’d add that the damn kids should stay the eff off my lawn, but since it’s in OB it’s just a shithole anyway…


Kristin C. July 1, 2010 at 9:16 pm

I party and get high and get drunk and sleep in. I also helped clean up the Memorial last year, a year I didn’t even get a chance to participate in the marshmallow fight (as mentioned in my earlier comment), because it’s my community and it needed doing.

I don’t like all the trash that tourists and East Countians leave on our beach, wonder how they were raised??? Why aren’t you bitching about the tourists thinking before they leave their old couches they hauled down for the day and their tons of trash on our beach??? Why – because it’s always cleaned up by concerned citizens by noon on July 5th. It sucks, but it is life. To quote the OBRag quoting the U-T – “Independence Day has traditionally brought tons of trash to local beaches. Last year, city staff and volunteers collected more than 396,000 pounds of debris from the beaches during the July 4 weekend, according to the Beach Coalition.”

If you want to ban the marshmallow fight, or act like that’s the major problem on the 4th of July, then you need to lobby to ban tourists too.


Dave Sparling July 1, 2010 at 11:13 pm

Fun to read what I said a year ago, happy to say I would not change a word. Let us all join that old one legged Vet. and his faithful dog FAULKNER, behind a fence guarded by both private and city cop security, wrist bands in place, for a now legal ALCOHOL TOAST to personal freedoms lost.


doug porter July 2, 2010 at 9:23 am

best comment…via obragblog on Facebook: Christopher Moore This is why OB has so many diabetic seagulls..


Chris Moore July 2, 2010 at 12:50 pm

Hah thanks I am glad someone got a laugh out of that :)


Frank Gormlie July 2, 2010 at 4:14 pm

That is pretty good, dude.


Sunshine July 8, 2012 at 12:06 pm

perhaps the diabetic seagulls could use any hypodermic needles that wash up on the shore


Citizen Cane July 2, 2010 at 10:47 am

Ya, I was just thinking about the birds eating that crap. Plus the deliberate waste in the Marshmellow War is an interesting contrast to the issue of feeding the homeless.


just my 2 cents July 2, 2010 at 1:26 pm

Yeah maybe take the $ you are going to spend on marshmellows and give it to the church to buy food for the homeless…..
naw….get hammered have fun…its the OB way.


Goatskull July 2, 2010 at 11:35 pm

Hell yeah it should end these wars. This is unacceptable. Next thing you know it will progress to graham crackers and hershy bars and nothing will be left for smores.


obdudefever July 4, 2010 at 10:11 pm



D.J. Bonin July 10, 2010 at 1:37 pm

As a 20+ year Obecian, I love OB and it`s fun loving mentality but this thing has run it`s course for me and I won`t go near it. It creates an escalating riot mentality which evolves into violent aggressive behavior and other things being thrown. About 5 years back (yes when alcohol was legal) I had an 16 inch butcher knife thrown at me and hit me in the legs. luckily I had jeans on and was not injured but it definitely scared my girlfriend and me. We left immediately, very shaken and have only seen 1 fireworks show from the beach since then.


Chris Moore July 10, 2010 at 2:29 pm

This year’s, from what I saw, was pretty mild compared to last year, I didn’t see any violent confrontations at all. There were more younger kids around at this one, which actually seems to put a damper on the behavior of those with the whole “I’m a badass” mentality…


Kenloc July 10, 2010 at 4:01 pm

My dog likes to help clean up.He gets to pick marshmellows off the sidewalk while I walk him til August. Since the Monument was brought up I’d like to mention that you really shouldn’t let your dog pee on the monument or the flagpole. Show some respect.


Seth July 2, 2011 at 6:30 pm

This thread is a freaking drag. Except for Dave saying that the fireworks should be replaced with “read a bible to a cop night”, that was funny as hell.

Here’s my plan… everybody be cool, have a good weekend and celebrate life, freedom and this fine community we all live in — fireworks and marshmallow fight optional. If anyone is so inclined, maybe help clean up a bit the next morning. That pressure washer, some Simple Green, a couple of scrubbers and some buckets of water sounds good to me.


jettyboy July 3, 2011 at 6:23 pm

I thought this exact subject was talked to death last year, and low and behold most of the reader posts are from last year. See ya at the MM exchange. I”l be at the one without regulations or rules.


Frank Gormlie July 4, 2011 at 8:02 am

Seth and jettyboy – this re-post from last year had a lot of history that some have already forgotten – or never knew. Sorry it bummed you guys out so much.


Seth July 4, 2011 at 9:56 am

And here you got me all in a bother about posts from 1-2 years ago.

LOL @ me.

Happy 4th, everyone!


tom July 4, 2013 at 3:14 pm

I got a hurt eye….SOOOO WHAT!!!!!!I had a blast…….so did my buds. We met others and partied later in peace. Had to go to an eye doc, I admit. But it was worth it and I cant wait to bring more friends and do it again!!!!!!


Deon July 5, 2013 at 12:53 am

This is WAY out of control.. First of all on the beach.. people began to throw sand at us and we werent even participating! they threw HARD marshmellows at us and that isnt the end.. getting out of the parking lot and through the streets was like a riot …. People were jumping and hitting cars with their hands and throwing rocks.. it was WAY out of control… There were no cops stopping it either… Please ban this or At least Get WAY more cops watching it.. they hurt our newborn baby and we were unable to find the person who did it. our car was damaged as well..


Tim July 6, 2013 at 5:01 pm

Way out of control is putting it mildly. What was tons of fun has turned into disrespect of our community.

I support a ban if this is how this great tradition has to be ……………or perhaps set up a marshmallow fight zone? Those who don’t comply and take it out of the zone or to the streets should be cited for littering.

I’m all for personal freedom. But when something affects my ability to carry on without the hassle of obnoxious tourists and out of hand locals, I say that they have overstepped the boundaries of reasonable conduct, and they have violated their personal freedoms…………. at the community’s and my expense.

People need to be responsible. The “ideals” that we aging locals would like to believe in can exist, often cannot in this entitlement based and irresponsible society.

Speaking of entitlement, I have had about enough of the trolls. Has anyone else? There is NOTHING positive about them. Perhaps they all should have been rounded up for clean up duty……then at least they would do something postititive for the community….and they’d be eating for weeks……………


Mike James July 8, 2013 at 6:27 am

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