From the 1900s to present day, locals claimed residency on the shores of Sunset Cliffs. With Point Loma Nazarene University sitting at the heart of famous Sunset Cliffs surf spots — Newbreak, Abs, Subs and Garbage — students’ presence on the waves has led to conversations about surfing etiquette with the locals.
San Diego consists of many surf spots, but Sunset Cliffs is one of the best, according to the surf online guide GoSurfing, due to how “the reef bottom of Sunset Cliffs provides for smoothly groomed waves.” There’s also ample opportunity for left and right breaks off of the numerous peaks created from this famous reef.
Ocean Beach sits directly next to PLNU’s campus and has a neighborhood that is home to many locals visiting Sunset cliffs. Resident to the neighborhood and local surfer Micheal Sabad said that students don’t tend to bother him, but there have been a few instances of conflict.
“Personally, I get along really well with the Point Loma kids who surf at Sunset Cliffs. However I can remember a time when a group of guys came paddling out from campus with a cocky vibe to them. I ended up getting dropped in on multiple times by this pack and had to tell them off,” Sabad said.
According to Sabad, no side has a domain over the area, but there are inherent rules within the sport itself that create levels of priority.
“The biggest misconception is: locals like to act as though they have jurisdiction over the area just because they’ve been surfing there for a number of years,” Sabad said. “That’s not the issue, in my opinion. I think that what we’re actually trying to emphasize is that etiquette is everything within surfing. If someone has priority on a wave, it’s theirs — doesn’t matter who you are or where you’re from.”
Professor Ben Cater, PLNU’s surf history teacher said that these famous cliffs, with their phenomenal reefs and historical attributes, have left their mark on the San Diego community.
“Sunset Cliffs contributes to the history of surfing seeing that Sunset Cliffs have generated probably a thousand people in San Diego who have kicked into surf history,” Cater said.
The history behind Sunset Cliffs dates all the way back to the early 1900s when city construction and effort to develop the area into a tourist attraction came about. In all, that accounts for almost 100 years of development and, according to Cater, there’s culture and history shock for his students .“There are different types of shock within how sacred Sunset Cliffs is in the sense that historically it’s been an isolated place, but over time more and more people have moved here and found out about this place,” Cater said.
“That in itself has been a rude awakening to some people, but we don’t educate students enough on how much respect and etiquette matters with the locals who have built and known this place from the ground up. My class, however, does discuss this topic,” Cater said.
Sophia Hinz, a first-year graphic design major and a casual surfer at PLNU, said she noted the drastic difference in surf respect and etiquette between PLNU students and locals at different beaches.
“I have never had tension with locals at Sunset Cliffs, but have heard lots about it happening to other people. My older sister has had many occurrences where she has gotten cussed out by locals for catching the wrong waves, gotten run over by them and in many instances felt threatened or in danger,” Hinz said. “In contrast, I have surfed at Pacific Beach where the locals give tips, encourage and offer waves to beginner surfers. There is definitely tension and depending on geographical location, it revolves around feeling ownership and pride for their own turf.”
Hinz said she believes that it doesn’t matter who “claimed it first” and that there shouldn’t be any sort of competition going on, claiming that everyone should be appreciative and grateful to God for the gift of Sunset Cliffs.
“To me surfing at Sunset Cliffs, or having the ability to have a place to find community, see God’s creation and be a part of the Loma life in a unique way [is] different from any other school,” Hinz said. “Although it is a bit intimidating, Sunset Cliffs is something that anyone can be part of and is also a component of our school that we can identify with as a connection between education and geographical significance.”
Written By: Amy Bonner