Dozens of Long Beach residents lined their surfboards along the shore Saturday morning in protest of the breakwater at the ninth annual Paddle Out in Memory of the Waves ceremony.
Led by the Long Beach chapter of the non-profit environmental organization Surfrider Foundation and Assemblymember Patrick O’Donnell, men, women and children paddled out along Granada Beach and said a quick prayer to raise awareness of the adverse effects caused by the breakwater.
Long Beach used to be considered the “Waikiki of Southern California,” according to Surfrider Foundation, and the installation of the breakwater ended that along with the surf competitions its coveted waves used to attract.
“It’s an important issue because we’re trying to improve Long Beach — the whole beach and the inland areas by bringing waves back to Long Beach through sinking or modifying the breakwater,” said Seamus Innes, an advisory committee member with Surfrider.
The breakwater is a stone barrier that extends from the Queen Mary to the Alamitos Jetty, and it was built 69 years ago to protect the Long Beach Naval Shipyard after World War II.
It has been over 20 years since the naval shipyard was closed, and environmental groups want to sink the breakwater so the waves return to Long Beach and runoff stops collecting in the water.
Isabel Teran, a sophomore from Millikan High School, was at the event with several members from her surf team.
“I think it’s important because [the waves were] a part of our community before and the [government] just took the environment into their own hands,” Teran said. “I think it’s really cool that everyone is rallying together to get rid of it,” Teran said.
However, advocates received backlash from the maritime industry, whose trade ships seek shelter behind the breakwater before unloading cargo at the Port of Long Beach.
Residents who live on the peninsula are also opposed to the change because waves could erode their oceanfront properties.
Wayne Hart, a Long Beach resident and part-time surfer, said he would love to see a compromise reached between the industry and residents.
“It would be fun to have some waves here — apparently this used to really break before the breakwater was built, even though the breakwater was built for very good reasons,” Hart said. “It would mean a lot if they were able to find a compromise…everybody wins if they can figure something out because it would make the water cleaner.”
According to O’Donnell, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers began a three-year feasibility study in 2016 to see if modifying the breakwater would be possible. He also said this million dollar project may provide “a potential project that would lead to cleaner water, more recreational opportunity and more economic vitality in Long Beach.”
“Back in my day, I had my surfboard rack attached to my bike, and I had to ride it down to Seal Beach because I couldn’t go to Long Beach because there are no waves in Long Beach,” O’Donnell said.
He also expressed that a change would make the city a better place for his children, including his daughter who was present with her surf team.
Even though advocates were at the event, one resident did express distrust of O’Donnell. Longtime surfer Brad Filbey said he felt like the assemblyman “was just trying to get reelected” as he orchestrated splashing and chanting during the ceremony.
“Anybody who raises their hand to represent the people has some ulterior motive,” Filbey said. “We need to stop selling out to the city, state and federal government, so they can [stop] their shipping operation and oil business out in front of the beach where my kids live. Give us our beach back, give us our water back, move all these ships into the harbor in front of the marina, not in front of our beaches.”
According to Innes, the city and the Corps will hold a meeting to give updates on the federal study and the future of the breakwater. It will take place June 21 from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. at MADE by Millworks on Pine Avenue.