Aug 31, 2016

1986 Huntington Beach Riot

Today marks the 30th anniversary of the Huntington Beach riots at the OP Pro surf contest.

It's an easy thing to mock, especially if you harbor anti-pro-contest sentiments. But the larger truth is we should be thankful that no one was seriously hurt, given how chaotic the event was...



Although no one realized it at the time, the use of raw TV footage to round up the alleged perps foreshadowed what would one day become the norm in law enforcement. Remember, this was 6 years prior to the Rodney King beating, which is generally thought to be the tipping point of video becoming a part of the legal process.

It surprised no one in the surfing community that bringing tens of thousands of non-surfing, marginally interested spectators to a beach -- then feeding them beer all day -- would eventually lead to violence.


It surprised no one, that is, except the people running the event.

But to their credit, the officials had the presence of mind to let the final heat (which was going on out in the water at the time) run long in order to minimize the number of people heading towards the parking areas at the moment the chaos broke loose. That decision no doubt saved lives.


What resonated with most surfers at the time, who doubted the value of large surfing events, was the validation of their belief that promoting surfing to "the masses" would surely lead to something unpleasant.

On August 31, 1986, they were proven right.

1 comment:

Geoffrey Levens said...

"What resonated with most surfers at the time, who doubted the value of large surfing events, was the validation of their belief that promoting surfing to "the masses" would surely lead to something unpleasant."

Agree 200% with that! Though I would say that by '86 we were already deep into the unpleasantness. It has indeed been greatly augmented by promotion to the masses but I think also just oozing up out of the deep cultural psyche of even the most hard core surfers. The "modern" mindset is all about destruction of pretty much any and all things in order to turn them into short term profit and/or pleasure and it is almost part of our DNA it runs very deep.