Surfers Battle Billionaire for the Beach

A short documentary goes inside the ongoing fight for California coastal access.

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On October 21, 2012, five surfers set out for the picturesque California cove known as Martin’s Beach. With cameras in tow, they bypassed the locked gate, the property managers, and various “No Trespassing” signs. But catching the perfect wave was never the intention of the group now known as the “Martin’s Five.” The surfers, along with the nonprofit Surfrider Foundation, set out to challenge what they see as the unconstitutional closure of public beach access. After paddling out into the open waters, the surfers returned to the beach where they were arrested with misdemeanor trespassing charges. While the state eventually dropped the charges for insufficient evidence, the battle for beach access continues.

The short documentary is a collaboration between Surfrider Foundation and the surf publication The Inertia, following the surfers as they challenge the public's exclusion from Martin’s Beach. The fight pits the Surfrider Foundation against Vinod Khosla, a billionaire venture capitalist and the current owner of the surrounding area. Up until Khosla purchased the property, the previous owners allowed beach entry for a small fee. The surfers argue that Khosla's actions violate the California Coastal Act of 1976. 

The San Mateo County Superior Court currently has two cases on its docket involving Martin’s Beach. The first case filed by a group that calls itself Friends of Martins Beach, “argues in part that the California Constitution guarantees public access to the state’s beach.” The second case, brought by the Surfrider Foundation “takes a different tack, claiming Khosla violated the California Coastal Act by locking the gate to the property off Highway 1.” The surfers argue that this fight will have implications for beach access across the country.

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Paul Rosenfeld writes and produces for Atlantic Video. His work has also appeared on The Daily Beast and CNN.com.

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