Hermosa Surf Camp to lose its place in the sand, may force closure, director Vince Ray says

Hermosa Surf Camp director Vince Ray at the shipping container where he has stored his camp’s surfboards for 22 years. Photo by Kevin Cody

by Kevin Cody

For the past two decades, a 20-foot shipping container has rested on the beach just south of the Hermosa pier. The container holds 50 soft top surfboards, 30 body boards, and four 10-foot by 10-foot E-Z Ups.

Over 12,000 local kids have learned to surf on boards stored in the container. The container belongs to the City of Hermosa Beach. The boards belong to the Hermosa Surf Camp, which Vince Ray has run through Hermosa Beach Parks and Rec since the early 1990s. 

Last fall, the city told Ray to empty the container because the city is moving it off the beach.

As a result, Ray, 65, is contemplating closing the camp, or moving it to Redondo Beach.

The Hermosa Surf Camp shipping container, viewed from the Hermosa Beach pier. Photo by Kevin Cody

“The city has offered me storage for one year in the parking structure on 13th Street. But it’s too far for the kids to carry the boards to the 10th Street Lifeguard tower, where we teach. And where do I keep the boards the following year? A storage unit would cost $1,000 a month, and I’d have to buy a van, and drive the boards to and from the beach every day,” Ray said.

The decision to move the shipping container from the beach was made last year during a review of permitted beach activities, Hermosa Beach Community Resources Manager Lisa Nichols said on Monday.

“We’re not sure how the container got there. It preceded my time,” Nichols said. She began working for the city in 2006.

A primary reason for moving the container off the beach, Nichols said, is “fairness to other beach programs.” 

“Where do we draw the line? It’s hard to provide storage for some, and not for others,” she said. 

Other permitted beach programs include youth sports, volleyball camps, fitness camps, yoga classes, flag football, and coed volleyball. None of them are allowed to store equipment on the beach.

Another city reason is the Coastal Commission, which, Nichols said, could view the container as obstructing public access and views.

A third reason, she said, is maintenance. 

“We don’t have a maintenance agreement for the container.” 

Ray acknowledged the corroded container is an eyesore, despite his efforts to make it blend in by painting it tan to match the sand. But it is not visible from The Strand, because it is blocked by the lifeguard headquarters, and it is barely visible from the pier, he pointed out.

He proposed moving the container under the pier, where it would be out of sight because the city fenced off under the pier to prevent homeless from camping there.

Nichols said aesthetics was not a factor in the decision to move the container off the beach.

Vince Ray leads dry land surf instruction in June 2001. Photo by Kevin Cody

Hermosa Beach resident Chris Brown has run surf camps for 25 years at the Manhattan Beach pier, and in El Porto. 

Manhattan Beach provides him storage on its pier for his pier camp, he said. Like Ray, Brown has his campers carry boards from the storage area to and from the beach. 

By comparison, he said, getting boards to and from his El Porto camp “is a total pain in the ass.”

“We store the surfboards in two surf vans, and rent spaces to park the vans,” he said.

“I’ve always envied Vince for having that container on the beach. It’s become part of the fabric of the community. Generations of kids have learned to surf because of that container.

“Now, some bureaucrat looks at something that’s been there forever, and the needle skips across the record. It’s very un-Hermosa. I’m curious what spurred it,” Brown said.

Hermosa Surf Camp instructors with surfboards, bodyboards and EZ-ups used each day by campers. Photo courtesy of Hermosa Surf Camp

Nichols said she’s not sure when the shipping container will be removed. She said it depends on when the city can clear the parking structure storage area it is providing Ray at no charge, through the end of next summer.

The Hermosa Surf camp began as the Chevron Surf Camp in 1992. Chevron donated $6,000 and Becker Surf donated 20 soft top surfboards. The camp was free. 

As the camp grew in popularity, the city took over registration, in exchange for 10 percent of the $25 per week fee. 

In 2015, the year Hermosa Beach voters rejected Measure O, Chevron was dropped as the camp’s title sponsor. Measure O would have allowed oil drilling in Hermosa’s tidelands.

“What has surprised us and disappointed us was that after 20-plus years of partnering with the community and city, somehow the decision was made without having called us to have a conversation, and the courtesy of a discussion,” Rod Spackman, Chevron’s manager of policy, government and public affairs told Easy Reader that summer. 

Chevron’s annual contribution had risen to $10,000.

Nichols, then a recreation coordinator, told Easy Reader at the time that dropping Chevron as the title sponsor was simply about improving the camp by getting surf-related companies involved. She said  oil considerations “were not part of my discussions regarding the new partnership.”

Spyder Surf replaced Chevron as the primary sponsor and enlisted support from the surf apparel company Hurley. Kinecta Savings and Loan also became a sponsor.

“Spyder saved the camp when we lost Chevron,” Ray said.

By last year, registration had risen to $378 per week for residents. 

Fees for camps permitted by the city are set by the camp operators. The city takes a 30 percent cut, and adds another 10 percent for administration. 

After the city’s 40 percent cut, purchasing new boards each summer, and paying coaches, most of whom are former campers, the camp has become a financial “labor of love,” Ray said.

“Plus, I can’t surf all summer,” he added.

If now he has to pay for a van and year around storage, he said he’ll have to raise rates again, for what was once free. ER 


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