Despite growth, Swami’s is still a great surf spot — for now

It has been more than 45 years since I first peered over the cliff at Swami’s, watching the big waves as our driver, Big Al, threw his 10’6” Greg Noll Surfboard from the top, before leading the rest of us in a charge for the lineup. The waves then seemed immense and the surfers were all better than any we had previously seen. Intimidated by Al, we were left alone, but the localistic vibe was present, even then.
While that clean triangular peak hooked me from the first, I merely rode waves at Swami’s initially, never caring about the surrounding park, the gardens or the shy reef that reveals a new world with each low tide. Eventually I would embrace the spot’s periphery as I learned more about its ever-changing charisma.
Swami’s is now home to a variety of surfers from young up-and-comers to soulful rock dwelling guardians, to those who appear in response to the omnipresent surf cams that plaster its pretty face worldwide. Still, the place remains a fun, gentle break populated by a generally friendly group of wave riders, who look to escape the loud world that press us ever deeper into smaller corners.
To my recollection the only surf contest held at Swami’s was a manufacturers event in 1965. I think Drew Harrison won it for his sponsor, Bing Surfboards. Since then a daily contest is held between those who ride big boards and small boards and those who sit in the outside pack waiting for set waves, which lately includes beginners brazenly snaking waves from the more skilled.
Longtime local surf legend Linda Benson in conjunction with her sponsors and the city of Encinitas hopes to bring the Women’s World Longboarding Championships to Swami’s. Slated for November 2010, the concept has already split the surfing world — opponents basically claiming there is not sufficient parking, bathrooms or other facilities (like waves) to accommodate the influx, proponents basically claiming that this is a great spot for a competition, will not greatly impact the break, will add to the city’s coffers and put Encinitas on the map.
To me this is more about the rights of local citizens than Swami’s itself. While I believe that nobody has the right to rope off a public area to accommodate a few, many friends strongly disagree. And so, the long debated question of whether surfing is a sport or an individual art form continues.
I have supported surfing for local causes like the Rob Machado Experience, Switchfoot’s Bro-Am and the UCSD Cancer Center Longboard Contest and Luau. Other than that, I, like many of you, try to stay as far away from the scaffolding, bullhorns and colored flags as possible. But that’s just me.
Ironically, all the talk from contest opponents about Swami’s being sacred may backfire, bringing more people to the break through the publicity. Perhaps further crowding of places like Swami’s is inevitable and Southern California surfers will go the way of the buffalo or be forced to travel halfway around the world in order to find what we once had in our backyards. It is certainly everyone’s right to enjoy the surf, but publicity increases crowds, and surfing has proven too delicate for the masses. Nonetheless, I respect those on both sides of the conflict. If there is a World Contest at Swami’s, however, I intend to be far from town, hoping my return finds the place back to its normal dysfunctional self.

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