After a week of stormy weather, there are few signs of life on nearby El Porto beach this overcast afternoon. The gray sky and sea look forbidding as wafts of oil fumes descend from the nearby Standard Oil refinery in El Segundo near Los Angeles.
The homes that overlook the ocean appear vacant, quiet. The parking lot, though open, remains nearly empty and seems overshadowed by the industrial billows of smoke gushing from the neighboring Southern California Edison plant. The lifeguard stands and snack bar are sealed shut. Only the most devoted surfers, bobbing up and down on their boards in the choppy waters, breathe life to this scene.
There is one sign, however, that belies this clam picture: The writings on the wall. They speak of the cheap thrills of summers gone by.
But other scrawlings decree disturbing messages: "Blacks Out," Reads one, painted near a large swastika. And another swastika, this one painted carefully in black with the stenciled initials IDBR" on top. And on the curb, another "IDBR" stencil with a 4-inch swastika underneath. In the restroom, on the trash cans -- the same lettering, the same-sized swastikas.
At first glance, the hooked crosses might conjure jp bizarre images of a neo-Nazi organization at work, suggesting the underpinnings of a Southern California dream-turned fascist, but a closer look at the area and its residents reveals a less dramatic but equally compelling story about the life style of the El Porto locals, the sun-bleached "homeboys" who want nothing more out of life than to surf and who deeply resent the onslaugh of "unlocale" taking over their territory -- the surf and beach adjacent to their streets.
They call themselves "Surf Nazis," a throwback to the surfing scene two decades ago. They brandish no weapons, only surfboards. Their main reading supply consists of surfing magazines, which recently have glorified the surfing era when Surf Nazis were plentiful. If anything, they are apolitical, but to some, their political apathy and desire to rekindle a fading surfing legacy only serve to underscore the growing problem of competition and violence in the sport.
"The swastika just symbolizes radicalness -- total surfing," explains Hugh Berenger, 19, a skilled EI Porto surfer who says that he and a group of about six friends secretly painted swastikas around the area last summer. "Back in the '50s, the swastika was a sign of the Surf Nazi. It's not Nazism, like Hitler. It's just someone totally dedicated to surfing.
"That's kinda what the swastika symbolizes in surfing -- someone that's dedicated to surfing and is kind of a beach-bum type of person All he wants to do is surf and drink on the beach and sleep on the beach.
"But the swastika is not a symbol to kill anyone, as Hitler did," he adds. "It's a Surf Nazi symbol. Just a surfing term, a slang term. Anyone who surfs every day is a Surf Nazi."
In glowing terms, they describe their hero, Mickey (King Malieu) Dora, the original Surf Nazi who built a reputation pushing people off waves during the late '50s and early '60s. Dora, now wanted by the FBI for making a false statement in applying for a passport, recently was indicted by the U.S. Postal Inspector's Office in Denver allegedly for using a counterfeit Diner's Club credit card. He reportedly is living in Europe.
"A Surf Nazi is like a cutthroat," says Berenger's older brother Mark, 21. "He'll do anything for a wave. He'll cut you off. That's kinda what a Surf Nazi is -- you can do anything."
There is another meaning to the term. Mike Jessongne, a 21-year-old friend who lives near the Berenger household, points out that "Nazi is the want to do something. We're so intensely into it that we're nazi about it. You can be a tennis nazi, a skateboard nazi. It's just a term that means how intent I am on doing something."
What about the meaning of Hitler's Nazi, and the extermination of 6 million Jews? "Oh, I think that whole thing was wvil," Jessongne offers. "I don't like to thing about it. It hasn't affected my life."
Do the seastikas have anything to do with hatred of racial or religious groups?
"New," Hugh Berenger replied. "Maybe if they're Orientals. I have something against people like that. From what I see of them coming in the water, they make me mad by the way they act and the way they surf. They don't surf good and they let their boards go all the time. We have a nickname for them: We call them Fish. Maybe it's just because they're another group who are different and they look like they're adding to the population of the water. That's just one of my hang-ups, I guess.
"But most of us dont't have any religion anyway. We don't care about religion. I don't profess to be any certain religion. I don't know if I believe in God, either. I just know you live for a while and you die. And it's a pretty short time."
The sons of a housewife and a retired fireman, the Berenger brothers live at home with their parents, as do their close friends. Mark Berenger, whose feet are covered with sufer's knote (calcium deposits from the friction of the board), works as a welder when he's not surfing and pays his parents $60 a month in rent. He sleeps beneath a surfboard hanging above his bed.
Hugh Berenger, who works the swing shift at a car-rental agency, sleeps next to his five boards, which are affixed to the wall by a rack he made at El s/egundo High School where he says he says he was a C student -- "usually a D in English if I was lucky." Their respective bedrooms are decorated with favorite surfing photographs and Coors beer cans.
The candor of the Berengers and their friends is sometimes startling, especially when discussing the suastikas.
"It gets reaction from people," Hugh Berenger replies. "It's fun to see reactions from different people. You just sit there and have all this stuff written there, and people will ride by and fall off their bikes. It makes life more interesting, I think" And IDBR-- what do the initials signify?
"It was something we could joke about amongst ourselves and not have to worry about anyone else. People are just in wonderment as to what it means.
"But it's no orgsnization."