The Coast News Group
The Surfing Madonna mosaic can be seen on a wall outside Leucadia Pizza in Encinitas, but for how much longer? Photo by Abraham Jewett

Surfing Madonna run, mosaic in doubt

ENCINITAS — In just a decade, it has become one of the most iconic symbols and organizations in San Diego County.

But a clerical error by the city of Encinitas, and the ensuing fallout, has put the future of the Surfing Madonna Beach Run and the mosaic it’s named after in limbo, according to Bob Nichols, CEO of the Surfing Madonna Oceans Project (SMOP).

The problem began in October when the nonprofit said it was overcharged for its lifeguard fees by $5,000. However, Paul Brencick, the city’s public information officer, said the city rectified the issue prior to billing SMOP once it was notified of the overcharging.

The city is also set to incorporate new processes for special events, although those details have not been finalized, he said.

The 2020 Surfing Madonna Beach Run, though, is currently not taking registration and Nichols said the race will not happen.

“SMOP later notified the city that they had changed their mind about canceling the event and wanted it reinstated,” Brencick said. “By this time, however, the city had already processed the event cancellation.”

The Encinitas Half Marathon & 5K on March 29 may be the final event for the SMOP, Nichols said. In the meantime, SMOP asked the city to remove the beach run and 2021 half marathon from the city’s calendar, thus, providing the current issue of not allowing registration.

The City Council will discuss the matter during its Feb. 12 meeting, Brencick said.

“Because all major special events (2,000 people or more) in Encinitas are reviewed in March of the prior year, this request for reinstatement is considered ‘off-cycle’ and will be taken to city council for consideration,” he added.

Additionally, the artist of the mosaic, Mark Patterson, will remove the piece featured on the side of Leucadia Pizzeria, according to the group.

Nichols disputes the city’s explanation of the fees and said the money was paid back only after the organization hired an attorney, who sent a letter requesting the reimbursement. He also said it is likely the nonprofit will shutter as those two events are the economic drivers for the organization.

“The response we received from the parks department was that City Council had directed parks to increase the lifeguard fees for our event,” Nichols said. “We quickly found out that we were being way overbilled for other events.

Patterson and Nichols, who is now the president of Surfing Madonna Oceans Project, sneakily installed the 10-foot-by10-foot glass mosaic underneath the train bridge on Encinitas Boulevard and Coast Highway in the middle of the afternoon on April 22, 2011, dressed as construction workers.

Since then, the Surfing Madonna has grown to become an institution in the city and spawned the nonprofit, which has donated at least $600,000 to dozens of causes. They developed the nationally recognized Surfing Madonna Surf Camp for Children with Special Needs.

The camp hosts more than 200 families per year, while the nonprofit also awards scholarships, donates to local ocean conservation projects and many more causes, schools and organizations.

Despite the potential end in Encinitas, the group said it is hopeful they can relocate to another city.


TriciA January 31, 2020 at 9:27 pm

As one of the special needs families who participates in the surf camp annually, we would be devastated to see Surfing Madonna not be held here locally…..or worse, at all! We love what you do for us, Bob and Meg!

Robert Campbell January 31, 2020 at 10:14 am

“Nichols disputes the city’s explanation of the fees and said the money was paid back only after the organization hired an attorney, who sent a letter requesting the reimbursement.” This is typical of Encinitas. You need an attorney to get fairness.

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