Civil disobedience has always been a part of surfing's core. From 18th century Hawaiians whose naked surfing upset the sensibilities of white missionaries, to early California crazies like Mickey Dora, all the way through to the dime-a-dozen rebels and wanna-be rebels that crowd the water today, surfing has embraced a certain outlaw mentality as part of its culture.
In Orange County, forms of aquatic civil disobedience are usually mild in nature, limited to staying out for a few extra waves after the black ball goes up, paddling out in red flag conditions against the lifeguards' advice, parking where you're not supposed to, stuff like that. Every now and then, something newsworthy comes up. Like when pro surfer/musician Alex Knost got arrested a couple of years back for surfing next to a shipwreck that had washed up in Newport.
But everyone's favorite, and the most famous illegal surfing scenario in Orange County, is surfing the harbor mouth in Newport. Only rarely does a swell of adequate size and perfect enough direction make the harbor mouth break correctly. But when it does, you can get an insanely long ride from way out on the long jetties all the way into Pirate's Cove. As one lifelong local surfer put it, “it's like full novelty surf…longest rides. Can you imagine if you fell in the barrel though? Those jetty rocks are not small.”
The harbor patrol agrees that it's not the safest place to surf. They bark at surfers over a loudspeaker, telling them they're breaking the law and they need to get out of the water. But for many, the experience of surfing the harbor is so rare, they pay no attention. “Most people know the drill. You get your wave or two and get outta there. But then there's these guys who just start lippin' off to the harbor patrol,” said another anonymous lawbreaker. In recent years, the harbor patrol has gone so far as to use a high-pressure fire hose to knock surfers out of the line-up. If you push it too far, or don't know how to be sneaky about it, NBPD officers will cuff you in the parking lot at big Corona and take you for a chilly ride in your wetsuit to be booked at the station.
On Monday, a direct South storm swell created the rare conditions that make for some of the longest rides in Orange County. For a few hours, a bunch of citizens ignored the law in pursuit of the strange novelty. Luckily for them, the harbor patrol was kept busy pulling pieces of boats, plywood and other flotsam from the water most of the time. Nevertheless, you had to be sneaky about it. Today, the harbor is supposed to break again for the second time this week, but locals are skeptical that it will be as good as Monday.