Reader Rant: Surf School Takes Too Much Space on Beach and in Water

by on July 14, 2014 · 34 comments

in Culture, Environment, History, Ocean Beach, Reader Rant, Sports

OB Pacific Surf School

This is picture of how much space they claim everyday. You can see the blue rope in the sand claiming space.


Originally published July 14, 2014.

By Albert Elliott

This involves an incident I had on July 11th with Pacific Surf Schools in Ocean Beach.

I have heard people complaining about the amount of space both ON THE BEACH and IN THE WATER the surf school (  has been taking down at the beach.   On the 11th, someone had gone to the lifeguards and asked how much space the school was allowed and can they rope off the area to save it.

The lifeguards told the surf school to remove their rope. Thinking that I was the one who had complained, a guy from the school yelled at me from the beach “thanks a lot man!”.  The next thing I know all their instructors are coming over and  yelling at me – telling me to leave the beach.  I told them, ‘I did not do it! I knew nothing about it. I was standing on the grass in my normal spot.’

It got fun from there.

Why did they come at me? Because I am a big guy easy to spot and everybody knows me. And while I had not said or done anything to the school, I think my “look” had made it pretty obvious how I felt. Plus people who had been complaining about the school are all are my friends and were coming to me, asking me what can we do? So it all must be my fault.

These guys have to go. I say, ‘Take your school to Dog Beach’. That’s where I and most everybody I know learned how to surf around here. Easier waves and less people.

But putting a bunch of beginners by the pier is unsafe and rude to the people who use the water and beach, and who live here.

We have one peak and can not handle a bunch of beginners in the way.  Heck,  I have not even been riding a surfboard lately because of the crowds I have been on a mat.
Telling someone, me, who has lived here for almost 66 years to get off the beach is not how to make friends.

I am going to be writing to the City council to limit the amount of space or get them moved.

I am a 3rd generation beach area native, lifelong surfer, I was a surfboard manufacturer for over 35 years, Home owner in OB. It is unfair to the “local” surfers of Ocean Beach who after North Beach is closed to surfing all get lumped together at the pier. But at least in the past when it was surfers who knew what they were doing it “worked”.

It used to be possible to get a left under the Pier and ride it all the way to the other end of the surfing area. Now good luck – as a surfing instructor pushes his student in the wave in front of you as they crash and burn causing you to either straighten out or be run over.  “My bad, Bro!” yell the instructors as they do it over and over.

I’m sorry for the long rant – but this has become a very sensitive issue to me and almost every local surfer and beach goer, because of the amount of space being used in the water and on the beach that has been taken away from the locals so someone can make $$$$$$$$ at our expense.

That’s it. It is a crowed issue, a safety issue and is down right unfair to the people that live and use Ocean Beach year around. Added bonus I hear there is another Surf school with a permit for the end of Newport Ave. Are we really going to sell off our beach like that?

Albert C. Elliott “ACE”


{ 34 comments… read them below or add one }

ACE July 14, 2014 at 11:29 am

Frank thanks for posting this. I hope people realize what we lose if you do nothing. Here is a letter I got from someone in Santa Cruz facing the same problem.
“Hi there ace – You are so right about this issue. I’m in Santa Cruz, and the surf schools hog all of Cowells, all of Little Jetty in Capitola, and all of platforms. Used to be mostly summer, but now it is year round. Additionally, smaller individual schools take a bunch of “students” out at other spots I surf like the Hook and 2nd peak. I think these things are getting so big because of money; these guys are collecting pleny of cash from the tourists, it’s an easy job, and commerce is on their side. Bottom line is they are taking advantage of a resource that is everyone’s to share, however they are capitalizing on it to make money. The surf insudtry loves this, as it perpetuates this money-maker for their team dudes to have cushy summer jobs doing nothing, and it hooks new customers to buy more crap! And, really, look at these students- they are wasting their fricken money!!! – The “lessons” are such a joke!, some pro-bro shoves you into a couple waves for a hundred bucks?!!!

Anyway, I believe we have some sort of ordinance in Santa Cruz that regulates the number of students per instructor – do you know if you have soething like this in San Diego? If you don’t maybe lobby to get one, as it may be one way to limit the impact at a given spot.

One thing I wonder about also is the legality of running a business in a public space. At the Hook parking lot , the surf “instructor “takes up to two parking spaces for his vehicles, and then as many other spaces for his students. How is that fair, and what does the community get out of this deal? He gets to run his business out of a public space, with my tax dollars paying his overhead? Not fair.

I think this is a problem at many spots in the state, and I believe it could get regulated better”


Ian July 15, 2014 at 7:28 am

It’s the pier in the summer. It has been like this since I learned to surf there almost 30 years ago (I’m a 3rd generation local also… And I still live here).

I still catch lefts all the way from the pier, but now instead of dodging kooks on ACE shapes, I am dodging kids on foam boards.

The pier is the perfect spot for them. It’s right in front of the main lifeguard tower, and it’s packed anyway. Locals should be happy they are learning here, with some type of instruction, rather than wandering to other spots (you really want to send them to the Jetty?)

Anyway, part of learning to surf (like learning the sting ray shuffle, or how to hold on to your board) is learning to deal with salty old dudes who remember the old days. That is an important part of the surfing legacy. So, keep up that salty attitude ACE (I am not being facetious).


ACE July 15, 2014 at 10:14 am

Ian first of all I do not want to send em to the Jetty. But I do think Dog beach is a much better place to learn. When people ask me where is a good place to learn I say dog beach. MB again NOT the jetty and PB. Because these beaches have way more space to learn. Dog beach has a long whitewater wave to ride which is where I think people should learn. There is more parking and every time I go look there way less people in the water. “Jetty” and Dog beach are two different things. You would think as a surfboard maker I would be all for this more $$ for me but I am not. I quite working for one of the local shops that had the surf school before in part because I did not agree with the surf school thing. I really did not want to get involved in this whole mess. Had they not sucked me into it I would not have in this way. I just wanted to enjoy a phase in my life where I can just go to the beach and enjoy the few summers I have left. If everybody is happy with the current situation than believe me I have other things to do and I have found some escapes that work for me and I do not have to deal with any of this.


Tyler July 14, 2014 at 11:30 am

I hear you. Had a few of them run into me in the water over the weekend… I’m all for people learning to surf but the groups of a dozen in the water chilling out near the white water learning to pop up just in front of the good breaks is very dangerous.


Catherine July 14, 2014 at 11:40 am

This is interesting. I actually don’t think that roped off area looks all that large, and I really cringe when locals stake priority claim on the beach or water, but would agree that beginners really should be down at Dog Beach. This does make me wonder what the licensing requirements are for surf camps. Do they have to be cleared by the lifeguards? Do they have to demonstrate some knowledge of teaching or water safety? Of course, outside an official camp, anyone wanting to learn can march on down to any part of the water that they want and become a hazard, but that’s different than a group of 10 all at once.


bodysurferbob July 14, 2014 at 12:00 pm

thanks ace for standing up here. it was just sunday that i had to yell at an instructor and a couple of gremmies (could tell them by their yellow suits) to get out of the swimming area with their boards. they easily could have hurt someone.


want2surf July 14, 2014 at 12:11 pm

Nobody owns the beach.
It’s great that the guards told them to take down the ropes, but they shouldn’t need someone to ask them to do that, ever. And a limit on student numbers isn’t only reasonable, it’s a safety factor. The instructors can’t watch them all, and all those boards aren’t safe for the rest of us in the water.
A City Council petition is a good idea.


nostalgic July 14, 2014 at 2:16 pm

Many businesses use public space for private enterprise. We heard that La Jolla Shores is getting a Park Ranger because (it seems like) the Surf Camps, Paddle Board Training, and Kayaking courses are so prolific they are running into each other. This is San Diego, the wild, wild, west! This is public property and should never be set aside for private use.


ACE July 14, 2014 at 2:39 pm

They are “allowed” up to 40 people at a time, I have been told by someone who can not say officially but knows. There is another surf camp that has a permit for the end of Newport Ave. That would be 80 add the local sponge board rentals from shops and hotels say 40 thats 120 people that do not have a clue. Then add all the normal surfers who show up. All that in a 100yrd or so surf area makes for not a fun day at the beach. The school has been told to remove any space saving ropes and limit the amount of area on the beach. Small victory so far. These guys are used to getting all the space they want because they have schools in MB an PB but those are much bigger beaches.


Christo July 14, 2014 at 2:40 pm

Speaking of La Jolla’s Outfitter issues, I went to kayak into the sea caves there and was told by lifeguards that “for safety reasons, only guided tours are allowed in”.

I laughed, as I used to give those tours 20 years ago and was in a closed deck whitewater kayak with a helmet and recovery gear.


ACE July 14, 2014 at 3:26 pm

Wow that ain’t right. Maybe we will not be able to surf if we are not part of a paid permitted surf class for that day?


John O. July 14, 2014 at 4:37 pm

What an amusing story. Bummer that they were being dicks. Wow, 66 years in the area. That is a feat in itself… I can’t imagine how much things have changed. Shoot, I’ll probably be so salty in another twenty years with all of the people around and in the water… my goal is to move somewhere with less people and better surf.


Duke Kahanamoku July 14, 2014 at 4:39 pm

How far away are we from government regulated surfing? The increased popularity of the sport may make necessary: 1) Surfing licenses 2) Spot permits & user fees 3) Insurance cards.

Just look at public golf courses and State Fish and Game & State Parks (camping & hiking) for clues to how state governments have ‘resolved issues’ in recreational activities.


Dana Levy July 15, 2014 at 8:06 am

Hi all, This issue seems to be the latest offshoot from the latest SCOTUS decision that corporations are people with more rights than actual people. I am sure the city does get some kind of income from these “businesses” and where should the kids (adults too, I suppose) learn to enjoy surfing in the ocean here in lovely So Cal with an instructor?

Don’t forget that the “students” are not to blame. It seems to be a gap in the city’s control of the free beach state law that allows these operators to be there at all.

I agree that some group action should be directed at our elected officials and that would be appropriate but don’t encourage any action to occur at the actual beach that will lead to bad feelings and even some sort of violence.

As long as I have been surfing/swimming in the ocean (68) it has always been every “man” for himself. It is irritating to have someone in your way, yes, but the bottom line is that the sea belongs to us all so let’s not get into a La Jolla type fight to save the water for only a select few (locals, seal ropes, etc.).

There are different colored flags that are enforced by the lifeguards to separate surfers from swimmers and rip currents so this should be a easy fix too. Life (and summer) are all too short so enjoy what we are blessed to have here in San Diego and keep chugging along for decency and access for all at our beaches and if some sort of intervention is necessary from time to time to keep things safe please do it in a friendly and constructive manner. This should have an easy solution and hopefully our elected representative Harris can get it done in a timely manner.


ACE July 15, 2014 at 9:55 am

Dana you are right there is a “easy solution” since surfing has grown so much since the original beach plan to designate certain areas to swimmers surfers etc. I remember when you could surf everywhere except in front of the main lifeguard tower year round. That gave surfers way more beach. At that time there were fewer surfers than swimmers. That has changed on most days. The easy solution give surfers more space. Is that going to work? We only have so much beach in OB. To give up a pretty good percentage to private business on the beach is unfair.


Tyler July 15, 2014 at 11:26 am

Can anyone explain why they blackball Avalanche in the Summer? I figured it was to give swimmers more of an area but I go to Dog Beach everyday around 2-3 in the afternoon and there is almost never anyone in the water near the breaks, and if there are it’s just a couple of people. Such a shame to see that break empty


ACE July 15, 2014 at 4:55 pm

I just received this from Ed Harris office.
The current concession agreements run through 4/30/2019 and were developed with considerable input from the lifeguards as to beach and water use and safety. The lifeguards also have an ambassador that keeps an eye on the concessionaires to make sure they are within the rules established by the agreement so I am not sure what can be done before the existing agreement expires. This is the first time I have heard this type of complaint but if they continue to come in we may be able to make changes when the next RFP goes out.
Looks like we are stuck with em until 2019 have fun at the beach for the next 5yrs.


nostalgic July 15, 2014 at 7:07 pm

So, the city is renting out our public beaches? I guess they charge fees instead of rent.


J.Stone July 16, 2014 at 10:24 am

Yes the city is “renting” public beaches to businesses. Go down to the foot of Cape May Ave. All you can see are Volleyball courts taking up most of that beach, and their vans and trailers taking up parking spaces.


Tyler July 16, 2014 at 10:47 am

I pick up their empty water bottles they leave on Sundays :\


Tom G July 16, 2014 at 8:14 pm

I agree whole heartedly with Ace. The surf school doesn’t give a damn about who ever else they affect. I dislike misleading opportunists, and really don’t like it when it infringes on locals, visiting beach-goers and line-ups. Particularly in the place people go to get away from obnoxious hucksters.

Ed Harris, to his credit, responded, but if they’re not following the terms of the contract, the 2019 date is moot. And if there isn’t anything in the contract about other beach goers’ and surfers’ right of way, then shame on whoever wrote the terms.


ACE July 16, 2014 at 8:27 pm

Ed Harris did not respond someone from his office did. I am trying to get a copy of the regulations these guys have to abide by. So far no luck.


ACE July 17, 2014 at 7:56 am

FYI they have added another tent, doubling in size, I was told they were allowed only one tent. If you think this is going to go away easy do the math…40 students per group @ $65 x 4 sessions per day= $11,200 PER DAY.


ACE July 17, 2014 at 11:42 am

Opps Dyslexia is a bitch the numbers come to $10,400 per day. should remember to use calculator


rchalmers3 July 17, 2014 at 5:59 pm

So then the battle is over providing for the greater good (beach goers at large) vs an income stream for the city. How are we to organize a voice, a front to present to the city on behalf of the greater good?


ACE July 18, 2014 at 7:53 am

So far all I get from the city is they are here to stay. I am just one guy complaining. The school knows how to get what they want. They have these big new banner flag things that make the whole thing look like a giant circus on the beach, They got “special” permits for those. This whole surf school Idea is a joke they are not learning how to surf they are just tourists getting in the way running each other and others over. I have a picture of a surf school instructor telling his student who has no control of his board to go on a wave as he, the student just cuts off a surfer on the wave causing the surfer to have a real nice “wipe out”.
The whole thing just ties in with the “new OB” now those tourist that stay in the new condo vacation rentals being built on the beach just have to walk across the beach to get their private surf lesson. Development and greed sell off the last natural resource we had left that little speck of beach at the south end that had been my and many locals around her reason for staying in OB. I have put up with a lot in my lifetime watching this spread thru MB to PB I always hoped the people of OB would have been willing to keep at least the sand business free.
As a property tax owner whose money goes to maintaining the beach. Since I have lost my favorite beach space, they put this right where I liked to hang out, and since the city is making money from the school I wonder if I will get a break on my taxes?


ACE July 24, 2014 at 2:04 pm

Just received this from the Lifeguard Sargent responsible for this stuff….. “We understand your concern on limited beach space as well as limited space available in the water. Unfortunately, there is not an exact square footage in which the surf camps must keep their classes contained on the beach or in the water as outlined in their RFP. Here is what it does say concerning space:

· “CONCESSIONAIRE shall erect no improvements except either: 1) one (1) shade structure no greater than twenty (20) feet long by twenty (20) feet wide; 2) no more than two (2) shade structures each no greater than ten (10) feet long by ten (10) feet wide in size; or 3) any shade structure, in the opinion of the CITY, needed to adequately serve the public.”

· “Beach Access
CONCESSIONAIRE shall not exclude the public from any Site. Beach access must be kept clear at all times. Surfboards must be kept in a position that does not obstruct beach access.”

The rope in question does exclude the public from the beach. For this reason we have asked Pacific Surf School to take it down and it seems like they are in compliance.” ” If there are any further concerns on this matter please notify me directly. Any complaints from the public are recorded and documented and have the ability to affect the next RFPs to be issued when the current ones expire on 4/30/2019.” Jayme

Jayme Broadhurst
Lifeguard Sergeant
San Diego- Fire Rescue
Desk: 619 221-8889 2019 WE ARE STUCK WITH THIS FOR THAT LONG…..You know that means forever. This is going to take a lot of work to change this too much $$$$$$$$$$$$ involved


ACE July 31, 2014 at 4:48 pm

had a long meeting with the Lifeguards today. IF we want to make a change with the surf school at the beach. #1- SAFETY the Lifeguards can not just say the school is a safety issue. WE have to prove it to them {they already know it but can not just say so because on a personal level “feel it”. POLITICS} So every time the school is in the way. you are run over by them or you see an instructor pushing a student into someones wave MAKE A COMPLAINT. #2 The other issue is SPACE we do not have enough room at So. OB for these schools. MB and PB are much bigger beaches and have way more room OB is a small surfing area. MAKE A COMPLAINT. Lifeguards complain here… Michelle Rodley . OB town council..…. Councilman Ed Harris. They are listening but we need to keep complaints flowing.


ACE July 31, 2014 at 4:56 pm

GRRR Michelle Rodley’s email is. Michelle Rodley . For the lifeguards. I wish I could post the maps I have so you can see how much more beach the other beaches have for surfing vs our 2 block surfing area.


ACE July 31, 2014 at 5:01 pm

I quit, do not know what is wrong with getting Michelle’s email here. She has been keeping the file on this stuff for the Lifeguards.


Rufus September 19, 2015 at 9:50 pm

You think it’s tough in OB, you should see La Jolla Shores!!

Between the surf schools and the kayak rentals, you’d think that it was a private corporate beach.

It’s freaking insane!



Geoff Page September 21, 2015 at 11:37 am

Ace, the best way t odeal with this is the documents. Request the RFP (Request For Proposal) and any signed contract documents between the City and the school. I deal with documents all the time and would be happy to look them over if you’d like. If anyone balks at providing them, let me know and I’ll send in a Public Records Request and they will have to provide the documents.

We all appreciate you bringing this up forcefully.


ACE September 21, 2015 at 1:51 pm

Geoff I fought this with everything I had last year. I have the RFP and would document on a daily basis things they were doing wrong. The lifeguards had a whole file on me. But since I was the only one “bitching” I was told it was easy to blow me off. The schools are still there and going nowhere $$$$ unless people who use South Beach start to complain, The reason this is being brought back up is because the school wants to expand their hours beyond the RFP.. This is going to be addressed at the OBTC meeting this week. I hope surfers and beach goers at South Beach realize how much they are going to loose when TWO schools with 50 clueless beginners are being shoved into the surf and on the sand on our little beach.


nostalgic September 22, 2015 at 9:16 pm

The Lifeguards are least likely to be the contract monitor. At least I didn’t know the lifeguards had the authority to rent out the beach. The Surf School contract may be with Parks & Rec, Real Estate Assets, or some other city department.


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