Three years ago on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Christopher Taloa, an actor and former professional body boarder, tried to honor the famous civil rights leader with a paddle-out for surfers at Lunada Bay in Palos Verdes Estates — an infamous surf break where outsiders are not welcome.
Taloa, whose credits include the 2002 surf film “Blue Crush,” says that the local surfers he encountered did not judge him by the content of his character.
Members of the so-called Bay Boys, he says, kicked him and forced him underwater. One paddled out in blackface wearing an Afro wig. “You don’t pay enough taxes to be here,” Taloa quoted the person as saying.
Another surfer kicked him, he says.
This Monday, Taloa plans to return to the wealthy enclave and has invited the public to join him in a peaceful Martin Luther King Jr. Day protest against racism and the notorious localism that has denied people access to scenic Lunada Bay for decades.
“We are going out there to enjoy the place. Some people may paddle out. Some might just enjoy the beach,” said Taloa, 43, of Los Angeles. “We will celebrate the fact that we can finally do this event in a place where we always should have been able to do it.”
“This is your bay,” he said. “It always has been.”
He says that the event will go on all day along the sheltered shore below Paseo Del Mar and that anyone is welcome to drop by at any time. The forecast calls for waist- to shoulder-high waves, fair conditions and partly cloudy skies.
The Coastal Protection Rangers, a nonprofit organization dedicated to preserving and enhancing beach access, has been contacting families, community organizations and surfing groups about the event.
“The response has been tremendous,” said Alicia Apostol, a board member and chief operating officer for the organization. “We are hoping for a good turnout and a fun, family-friendly day.”
The Coastal Protection Rangers, Diana Milena Reed and El Segundo Police Officer Cory Spencer sued Palos Verdes Estates and 10 alleged members of the Bay Boys early last year in state and federal court.
They claim that the group of territorial surfers has intimidated and accosted outsiders for years and that the city has done little to stop it. A court hearing set for Feb. 21 will determine whether the federal case will became a class-action lawsuit, which would allow more people to join the claims against the defendants.
“What a great way to celebrate Martin Luther King and protest the situation at Lunada Bay,” said Spencer, who says he has been repeatedly harassed and was run over by a surfer last January. “Our ultimate desire is to go there to surf in peace and enjoy the place without being bullied.”
Taloa, the U.S. amateur body boarding champion in 1986, has become an outspoken critic of Lunada Bay’s intense localism. He provided a sworn statement for the lawsuits detailing the intimidation, harassment and assaults he says he experienced on Martin Luther King Jr. Day in 2014, and many other times, at the point break.
“It was gang-style intimidation. I was kicked twice in the face,” Taloa said of his first attempt to honor King. “But they cannot keep me out of the water. They have no right to do that.”
Taloa said he would like to bring children from poor neighborhoods and the inner cities to Lunada Bay someday so they can “see all the wonder. This place would be very healing for a lot of people.”
Jeff Kepley, the Palos Verdes Estates police chief, said officers will be on hand during the holiday. The city and Police Department, he said, welcome the public and are committed to providing a safe environment for residents and visitors who come to Palos Verdes Estates, including Lunada Bay.