HomeCommunityMonterey Peninsula surfers’ strong sense of community contributes to positive vibe in the water

Monterey Peninsula surfers’ strong sense of community contributes to positive vibe in the water

Published March 5, 2024

BY CASSIDY SCHEID

Riding the waves along the coast from Moss Landing all the way to Big Sur, the Monterey Peninsula has been home to generations of surfers. From the most popular locations like Asilomar State Beach in Pacific Grove to the most hidden spots held close by locals, the peninsula holds notable surf spots, as well as a diverse, ever-evolving community of surfers. 

Connections between surfers contribute to the good energy felt in the water. (photo by DARBY DeJONGHE)

Surfing in the late ‘70s here on the peninsula looked much different than it does today. With a very small community, surfers say conflicts were common and tension could get high out in the water, and the vibe was overall unwelcoming, mainly towards new surfers.

“There was a lot more violence and localism,” explains Jim Affinito, a nurse at Natividad Hospital who has been surfing on the peninsula since he was 16. “You didn’t want to drop in on the wrong guy, or if you dropped in on the wrong person, it had much worse consequences than these days.”

Because of the possibility of aggression, ranging from dirty looks to fights, one had to be particularly careful out in the water, making sure to be respectful of the area and towards locals, especially when surfing in a new or more local area.

“Even then, you would come back to your car and just hope that it wasn’t vandalized,” recalls Laura Stephens, known as a ‘surf widow’ in the surf community, which she has been a part of since the ‘90s. “Because if you came down in your own car, they might slash tires, break your windshield or scratch your paint.”

Surfers come from all over the Monterey Peninsula to compete in the Surfabout. (photo by DARBY DeJONGHE)

After years of working your way in, one could eventually be able to surf the much more local surf spots without a lot of unwelcoming behavior.

“It would take a long time to get to where you could actually feel safe going to certain places,” Stephens explains.

A lot of this behavior stemmed from Monterey Peninsula’s small community of surfers, further divided into smaller regional groups, which created a sense of rivalry to the already competitive sport.

“When I first came here, there were different communities: a Pacific Grove crew, a Carmel crew, a Monterey crew and a Moss Landing crew,” explains Ron Triplett, a local therapist who began surfing on the peninsula in 1982.

This sense of division within the surf community began to change in 1980 with the start of the Carmel Surfabout, a Monterey County surf contest created by Brad Johnson and Tom Knight, co-founders of now closed Monterey surf shop, Sunshine Freestyle. Participants say that the contest brought together each separate group of surfers together in one competition, forming connections and creating a friendly atmosphere.

Passionate surfers make up a diverse community in Monterey County. (photo by JULIA HADLAND)

“One of the things that the contest did was kind of break down some of the barriers, because back then there were rivalries between the communities,” Triplett explains.

By creating relationships between surfers across the peninsula, the Surfabout attributed to the strong sense of community felt out in the water today.

“To watch how the other members of the community support one another and really show up for one another–to me, that’s one of the most remarkable things,” says Pat Robel, a recently retired CHS English teacher who began surfing on the peninsula over 30 years ago.

One of the most noticeable changes felt by the surf community is the number of people coming out to surf on a daily basis, which has increased significantly, and has affected the dynamic out in the water, lessening the sense of localism.

“You get to a point when there’s so many people that the old hierarchy kind of just breaks down,” explains Alexis Copeland, an instructor of assistive technology at Monterey Peninsula College, who started surfing on the peninsula in the late ‘70s.

Beaches on the coast of the Monterey peninsula are filled with a passionate community of surfers. (photo by DARBY DeJONGHE)

Even though the influx of surfers tends to tone down localism in an area, too many people in the water can lead to a greater sense of competition.

“When there’s all these people and this limited natural resource, there aren’t enough waves for everybody, so surfing gets really competitive,” Robel explains.

With increasingly more people surfing, the number of women surfers has also increased, which is another factor that can attribute to a more positive vibe felt out in the water.

“The behavior is overall better in the ocean, and I think that has to do with more women surfing,” Affinito explains. “I 100% think that’s the case. It’s less of a testosterone-fueled sport and more of a community now.”

Despite the history and stereotype of aggression, the surf community on the Monterey Peninsula has come a long way and is now more welcoming to new surfers than ever.

Surfers on the peninsula find joy in getting out in the water and catching waves. (photo by JULIA HADLAND)

“The guys definitely had a good attitude towards me, and they were really inclusive,” explains senior Enzo Gomez, who started surfing on the Monterey Peninsula in 2021 after learning at 6 years old when he lived in Mexico. “They had previous experience surfing, so they kind of took me under their wing, and I built a connection with them.” 

Monterey County is filled with passionate surfers and stunning beaches, where community surfers seek to enjoy doing what they love out in the ocean.

Robel remarks, “We have a really unique community here, and I feel really grateful to be a part of that.”

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