Guy Adams: Siding with the snappers in surf war

LA Notebook
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The Independent Online

It's been a cracking winter for surfing, with an El Nino weather pattern sending swell after swell at California (and serious snowfall to our inland ski resorts), but Spring has now sprung and the arrival of sunshine and warm water is bringing an exotic new beast to LA's top breaks: the fair-weather celebrity surfer.

Every now and then, while exploring local hot-spots, you'll clock what looks like a famous person in the line-up. I'm pretty sure the slightly podgy long-boarder frequenting Topanga Canyon last summer was Adam Sandler. And one of the regulars just south of Santa Monica pier is almost certainly Tia Carrere, who played the love interest in Wayne's World.

Celebrity surf sightings are tough to confirm, though. People look different in a wetsuit and it's never cool to stare. My wingman and I once spent an hour discreetly debating, in a whisper, whether Woody Harrelson was, or was not, the chap bobbing 10 yards away from us at Venice Beach. We never found out for sure.

A-listers don't always bring good karma to the water, either. Matthew McConaughey, pictured, for example, is about to feature in an ugly criminal trial regarding a brawl which occurred in Malibu a while back between a gang of surfers and paparazzi who were trying to photograph him there.

Two of the surfers, Skylar Peak and Philip Hildebrand, have been charged with misdemeanour battery against a French snapper called Richid Altmbareckouhammou, who they allegedly threw on to rocks, beat up and told to leave "their" patch of sand.

In defence, the surfers intend to claim they were performing a public service. "If you don't confront paparazzi they're just going to take over the beach," argues Peak's lawyer. "This case should never have been brought."

That argument has widespread local support, particularly among politicians who have long tried, without success, to introduce laws that limit the intrusion caused by LA's notoriously feral paparazzi. On balance, though, we should probably side with snappers. Not because of emotive issues like freedom of speech. But instead because paps are performing a valuable public service: without them on the beach, star-struck recreational surfers can never be quite sure if the person sharing a wave is as famous as they seem.

An oasis of capitalism

This week's reminder of the cultural gap between left-leaning California and Middle America comes courtesy of John Yoo, the Bush administration lawyer who brought you waterboarding. Asked by the LA Times about his current life in liberal San Francisco (he's teaching at Berkeley) Yoo commented: "I think of myself as being West Berlin during the Cold War, a shining beacon of capitalism and democracy surrounded by a sea of Marxism."