They aren't rationing gasoline, collecting scrap metal or growing
victory gardens. But the way the locals who surf San Francisco's
Fort Point see it, they are making a special sacrifice for the
This is an article from the April 14, 2003 issue
Fort Point is one of the most picturesque surfing spots in the
world, a delightful, dependable little break under the southern
span of the Golden Gate Bridge. "You've got the Marin headlands
behind you, the bridge above, and you're riding a left-breaking
wave toward the downtown skyline," says Matt Warshaw, a San
Francisco-based surfing writer. "It's a unique surfing experience."
And now it's verboten. When Secretary of Homeland Security Tom
Ridge raised the country's terror alert level to orange in
February, U.S. Park Police made Fort Point off-limits. Not all
surfers are taking it well. Their main objection: How much of a
threat could we possibly be? Says Aubrey Hounshell, who surfs
"the Fort" a dozen times a year, "It seems kind of unlikely that
someone would pack a bunch of C-4 into his board, paddle out and
try to, say, blow up a piling."
Fort Point is the site of the bridge's massive southern anchorage
(30,000 cubic yards of concrete), and authorities want to keep
everyone away from it as long as the terror alert level remains
high. "You'd need a barge full of explosives" to do significant
damage to the bridge, says Steve Hawk, former editor of Surfing
magazine, "or at least more than you could pack into the nose of
your board." Hawk sees the ban as an example of how "irrationally
fearful" people become in times of crisis.
Even if Ridge and his Homeys were overreacting, it's not such a
bad thing for Fort Point to be closed for a spell. Given recent
clashes among surfers there, incidents mostly sparked by
imbecilic localism, a cooling-down period is in order. "Fort
Point is patrolled by some very territorial surfers," says Aleks
Petrovich, owner of the Aqua Surf Shop on Sloat Avenue. "They're
basically a surf gang." Such troglodyte behavior is a problem at
surf breaks the world over, but it's particularly acute at Fort
"I went to college in Hawaii," says Hounshell, a native
Coloradan. "The localism is bad there, but it's worse in
After colliding with another surfer at Fort Point on Christmas
Day, 2001, Corbin Pagter was approached by the same fellow in the
parking lot. The young man, who was carrying a skateboard, said,
"I should break this over your head."
"Go ahead," said Pagter, who manages the San Francisco Surf Shop.
"Do you see all these tourists with cameras? They'll take pictures,
and then I'll own you."
The churl slunk away, not before shouting over his shoulder,
"You'll never surf here again!"
Pagter corrected him: "I was born here, I was raised here, and I
was surfing this break before you were born."
The truth is, some of the Neanderthals at this scenic spot belong
in a police lineup. On March 28, 2002, Adam Browning made the
trip across the bay from Berkeley to catch a few waves at the
Fort. He was assaulted by a group of locals who punched him in
the head and face (breaking his nose and opening a cut over one
eye that required several stitches) and then held his head
underwater. Ryan Farrell and Yoel Gorfain were arrested, pleaded
guilty to assault and will be sentenced later this month.
On March 9 a group calling itself Surfers Against War staged a
Paddle Against Paranoia. A flotilla of two-dozen protesters made
its way to Fort Point from nearby Baker Beach to oppose "a
potential war in Iraq as well as Homeland Security's war on our
civil liberties." Their message, however heartfelt, is undercut
by the hooligan surfers who infringe upon the civil liberties of
others. When Fort Point reopens, those who want to surf it should
be required to sign this contract:
I acknowledge that I am on federal property; that regardless of
how long I have been surfing this break, I have neither ownership
of these waves nor the right to harass or bully anyone who wishes
to surf them with me; that my failure to comply will result in
the permanent revocation of my surfing privileges.
The Fort, meantime, pumps out set after set of inviting waves
that nobody can ride. "It's true what they say," says Hawk. "War
The next SI ADVENTURE will appear in the May 12 issue.