Editorial: Surfgang 2 Publication: Loaded Magazine - August 2009 Back to Editorials

Locals Only?

While most Americans sit nestled in offices at just after 2pm on a Friday, others are more concerned with tides, waves and ”getting on.”.   In Malibu Los Angeles, just a few feet away from the historic Malibu Pier, about 150 surfers are jostling for position on a perfect set of 5-6 foot waves that break in an area about the size of a football field.

It’s a bit like a schoolyard. The older kids scolding the younger, in this case experienced surfers dropping in on newbies, weaving between others, slapping  their boards as they woosh past at speed  while yelling  “move,” fuck off,” or buy a boat,” to whoever’s in their way.

One particular surfer doesn’t take kindly to his board being slapped. After  confronting his attacker on dry land a brawl subsequently ensues. It turns out the perturbed guy isn’t from Malibu and as a “blow in,” he’s immediately set upon by a bunch of locals, a gang in fact calling itself MLO – Malibu Locals Only.

Gang Life in Los Angeles is nothing new - gun toting desperados dealing drugs and death – a cliché really. Yet how do achieve street cred when your parents  earn several million annually and you live in Malibu, – where the average house cost around $4 million? -  Join a gang of course,.absurd..? umm.. yes.

MLO isn’t a scripted creation, its a real life gang, though grasping the concept seems a little like the 2003 film Malibu’s Most Wanted, with a storyline that sees a US senator arrange for his aspiring rapper son to be kidnapped by a couple of black actors  posing as murderers to shock him out of his plans. In the film Taye Diggs plays a hardened gangster (chortle) while Snoop Dogg does a cameo as a talking rat - enough said..?

Patronised by a variety of A List celebrity offspring, including Ed Gibson (son of Mel) and Brawly Nolte (son of Nic) the Malibu based surf gang is all about localism. Privileged kids on an idyllic beachfront town laying claim to their turf.- apparently its not a comedy satire.

Meanwhile there are 720 identifiable gangs with 39,000 members in Los Angeles, responsible for 6% of the city’s violent crime  For them its all about survival.  Being part of a racial minority and having a lengthy criminal record means your basically unemployable. A career in crime is often the only alternative.

Yet for the average MLOer, trust funds, pampering parents and the luxury of options suggest a bit of hardcore roleplay at work. Still MLO member Sam(not his real name) -26 is adamant his gang isn’t a comedic pursuit and neither does its regular acts of savagery. Sam opts to use an assumed name when interviewed, as he is now on a suspended sentence after an assault charge late last year. He and 12 other MLOs were charged after attacking paparazzi who photographed actor Matthew McConaughey as he surfed off Zuma beach.
Eyewitnesses (and video evidence ) testifies to an MLO member verbally taunting the photographers after asking them to leave, “We’ll draw a line on the sand and we’ll fight for . If you guys win, you can have .”

The surfers then formed a semicircle in front the snapper stating [McConaughey] didn't want him or anyone to film. After an argument ensued  the 15 strong MLO mob unloaded on a handful of photographers. One was downed and received kicks to head while his $15,000 camera, lenses and videocamera were hurled into the ocean. US People Magazine’s 2005 “sexiest man alive,” later denied knowing about the incident -despite being photographed speaking to the attackers beforehand.

Sam recounts the incident, “We had just j had enough of the paparazzi invading our beach - why don’t they get a real job ?.”

Sam assures me that the gang does have a purpose –  and  that there is a real need to rid pristine coastline ( and prime tourist destinations) like Zuma Beach, Malibu Pier, Point Dume, and Broadbeach of “wandering blow-ins.”

 “Im born and bred in Malibu and Ive been part of the MLO ever since I was old enough to surf. It’s a thing that’s been around since the 1980s, just local kids hanging together and keep out those who aren’t welcome.”

Sam adds that MLO members often resort to vandalism to get their point across. Often slashing tires, keying doors and smashing the windows of cars owned by outsiders who visit ”his,” areas.

35 year old Pat Ryan is an MLO "elder," who’s been involved with the gang for about 20 years.  “It used to be about the surfing and the codes of surfing. Nowadays, the whole thing has dissipated, younger dudes claiming to be MLO flash M hand signals and spray threatening graffiti though they aren’t real MLO.”

“We are generally longtime locals, and our parents are admittedly middle class. We have no problem with surfers from other nearby areas coming, its now mainly the valley people.”

A sort of long boarders racial cleansing,? - pretty innocent really, though things were a little nastier back in 2004, when MLO members, in a party fight  with Valley based teenagers left one brutally injured,  with permanent brain damage.

Police files reveal the man was attacked by a group of about 10 young men and was beaten about the head to unconsciousness. Doctors told the victim's parents that he was beaten nearly to death. Due to the head injuries, the victim had short-term memory loss for months afterwards and has been in psychiatric therapy since the attack.

Another incident just a few months later at a private Malibu home saw a victim surrounded by five males who began demanding he give them information about a stolen dirt bike. The victim said he kept telling them he had no idea who took the dirt bike. He was then punched in the jaw and fell to the floor.

What followed was a brutal beating by the five males. When the victim fell, the attackers dragged him outside, and continued kicking him. He was later taken to a nearby hospital with a fractured skull.

Despite  the frequency and severity of these incidents,  Malibu Sheriff's Detective J.P. Manuelle, who investigated the beatings still doesn’t see the MLO as serious. “This is simply a local group of kids,. There are no carjacks guns, drug dealing, or burglary, just petty crime such as graffiti and some party fights."

Malibu Council Alderman Jay Jefferson a former area Sherriff and current Malibu surf shop owner adds, “They aren't exactly living on the edge of society. They are kids living very comfortable and pampered lives often on big allowances, the children of professional parents such as doctors or lawyers. “

So what sets these people apart from archetypal white trash that constitute the average LA gang member, and why aren’t they simply a  bunch of bong sucking dullards in need of a good wash and a map to scratch their own arse ?

As a haven for the rich and famous Malibu also offers plenty of the glam factor. “When you’re a rich kid you can afford to buy cool. MLO types will often drive old “beaters,” around the hood, like 1980-90s opened topped Jeep and Bronco pick ups, and they’ll have a second car like an $80K Mercedes, BMW or Audi parked in their mum’s driveway.

Commercial enterprise has also crept in to exploit the whole MLO mystique. There a t-shirts, board shorts, hoodies, caps and more emblazoned with MLO initials in gothic typeface being sold at most surfshops in the area There’s even a jewelry designed by Bill Wall jewelry, insignia fighting rings that can be combined in sets of four to use as brass knuckles

Surf clothing Store owner Mark Jacobs of Clout clothing near Zuma beach says the MLO gear is a big seller. “Its huge for tourists which is kind of ironic  Japanese Koreans, and Italians, they love it. Im selling it daily.”

On the gang issue, Jacobs adds, “There will always be attention on Malibu as its a celebrity rich area. there are about six high profile celebs involved with the group. Their parents are respected people who arent happy about their kids being aligned to the type of activity.”
 “Malibu is and always has been a rich area and the kids who are brought up rich do normal things. They surf, chase girls, see live bands. They have wild parties, get wasted and fight. They don't just sit at home studying the piano.”

Now an ex MLO member 38 year old Bill Sears is philosophical about the gang’s current relevance. “ Nowadays, the whole MLO thing has dissipated of being strictly about surfing code to being a bit of a joke, now there are people who are neither surfers or locals claiming to be members of the MLO.

Yes there was violence but no more than any other surf area where surfers codes are in place. Back in the day this was a lifestyle, a world a cult known the world over type of gang, people lived to surf and nothing more there was a sense of poetry and a sense o passion and conviction in the whole thing.

It was very much aligned to the whole alternative music scene, it was very subversive, very left wing, very much involved with a political; mindset like the environment and liberal attitudes towards drugs and the work ethic. But the reality is nowadays surfing isnt such a rebellious thing to do, its a mainstream sport that girls kids and moms can do, so you begin to wonder about this hardcore elitism.

-Craig Stephens


sidebar- OTHER GANGS
MLO aren’t the only rich kids gang. Others include the SFV, a group of right wing skinheads who run the San Fernando valley, picking fights with ethnic group like Mexicans while also dealing drugs.

The SFV are upper middle class kids playing mean. They adopt the working class skin look  with turned up jeans boots and braces.They’re alsobig on neck tattoos, but give an LA twist on the general skinhead fighting style,  opting for guns over feet.

La Jolla’s The Billionaire Boys Club are a more similar to the MLO in that they are surfer based and from an upscale area. La Jolla is located 15 minutes from downtown San Diego, a millionaires retreat speckled with beachside mansions, luxury hotels and boutiques.

In the early 1990s ABBC member was jailed for murdering a fellow member after a kidnapping by the group over an unpaid drug debt backfired. Nowadays its again about territorialism and posturing.  Pharrell Williams even adopted BBC as thename of his clothing line which was released, in late 2005.

If  they’re seen as wankers the redeeming feature of the MLO is their enthusiasm for quality music. Surf music is their collective preference, from classic guitar music of The Shadows and Dick Dale to dub reggae and classic retro punk, the American version at least, including the likes of Black Flag, The Germs and Circle Jerks,. Gansta rap also gets a show, from classic NWA to Xibit. Until it closed in December 2008 The Malibu Inn was a favorite MLO haunt, with Sunday reggae nights a hotspot.

I mentioned the MLO clothing lines at the bottom the piece. While the SFV adopt “skinhead chic,”the others choose basic Americana surf wear as the order of the day. When not in wetsuits they’ll wear flip flops, shorts and polos by brands like Billabong, Quicksilver,Oneill, Gotcha and Sideout, they look like average rich surfers apart from gang tattoos, ie MLO ab and forearm tattoos

Written by Craig Stephens

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