The Border War Is Real, And Surfers Will Feel The Burn
A surfer’s perspective on the violence on the Southern Border.
In 1995 I made my first road trip south of the border. I vividly remember scoring empty, glassy Baja Malibu with a couple friends. The magic, mystery and opportunity of the peninsula was captivating. Less than hour from my front door in San Diego I could be in a foreign land with empty waves.
The San Ysidro Port of Entry was the gateway to that adventure.
Today, the San Ysidro Port of Entry is the busiest border crossing in the Western Hemisphere, decorated for the holidays with razor wire and military hardware, and looks more like a gateway from hell. T
Before the US mid-term elections, President Trump deployed over 5,000 U.S. military troops to the border. Over the last few weeks U.S. Customs and Border Protection have intermittently shut down the border crossing to foot and motor traffic as a “caravan” of refugees walking north from Central America arrived at the U.S./Mexico border seeking asylum.
Temporary camps have been erected to house the thousands of men, women and children.
Last weekend, as tensions rose, U.S. officials launched a volley of tear gas canisters over the border into Mexico to deter refugees, their actions drawing comparisons it to the visuals of Palestine/Israel.
An estimated 175,000 people use the San Ysidro border daily for a myriad of reasons. If there’s a little swell running, some of them are surfers.
“You don’t have to be an immigrant to have your own checkpoint story,” wrote Gustavo Arellano in a recent op-ed for the L.A. Times. “Whether you’ve been a drunken reveler on Tijuana’s Avenida Revolución, a surfer returning to el Norte after a month hanging 10 in Todos Santos, a gearhead racing dune buggies in Baja, or a foodie seeking seafood in Ensenada, the San Ysidro crawl is something millions of Californians have had to endure. Californians visit Mexico, Mexicans do the reverse, and we don’t have a fit about it.”
Ever since Butch Van Artsdalen, Pat Curren and the Windansea crew slid south of the border to take in a bullfight and have some fun back in the early ‘50s surfers have been scouring the peninsula for shits and giggles.
In the late ‘70s, Sean Collins pioneered surf forecasting for the express purpose of scoring Baja. These days you may stumble upon Greg Long hunkered down in his Sprinter van, although, to be fair, Greg will probably see you coming well before you find him. And then there’s the Higginbotham brothers who just crossed the 28th parallel in their quest to paddle the entire length of the peninsula.
The border zone has been sketchy for decades; in the early 2000s there were a lot of bloody battles for turf amongst the Cartels, making it a very murderous period at the border. The majority of that violence was confined within the Cartels but did occasionally expand to include innocent victims. Narco-related crime is one thing, but in the last month things have escalated quickly and taken on a considerably more authoritarian tone. The current situation looks like a war zone.
But could Trump really close the border…and in doing so bar a bunch of Southern California surfers as a run of swell sets up in the North Pacific?
“He could try to close some of the ports of entry until they are better staffed and they can take in more asylum applicants. He could send the military in an advisory capacity and they could arguably deter people from going to the border,” explained the director of immigration policy and senior counsel at the Niskanen Center, Kristie De Peña, to Vice.com. “What I suspect he probably means is that he wants to use the authority that he used for the travel ban—his broad authority that is in the Immigration and Nationality Act, section 212(f), to try to ban the entry of anyone seeking asylum on the US Mexico border.”
The San Ysidro border feud doesn’t appear anywhere close to a resolution. For the refugees, these are desperate times as winter sets in and they look to make a better life for them and their families.
This “crisis,” which is part of an immigration flow that’s been occurring for year now—and is largely U.S. created as corrupt Central American regimes are propped up in countries like Honduras—could have been avoided with better diplomacy and treating people with dignity and compassion.
This administration's policies have turned it into a political spectacle, rather than pursuing a rational, humanitarian solution. And now everyone from refugees to surfers are waiting to see what happens next.