5 Surfers Battle Billionaire for Beach Access in California

On a brisk fall morning last October, five surfers walked across private property in San Mateo County, California to surf the waves at Martin's Beach. The beach had previously been accessible to the public via a small fee for years before it was taken under new ownership, and suddenly access was no longer permitted. A series of closed gates and trespassing signs made that apparent as Vinod Khosla, co-Founder of Sun Microsystems and the alleged new owner of the land, had decided on new rules.

Shortly after paddling out, Sheriff vehicles arrived at the beach, and the surfers were told they were under arrest for trespassing.

But were they trespassing?

The Surfrider Foundation and The California Coastal Act of 1976, a piece of legislation that ensures under California State Law that navigable waters remain open to the public, say otherwise. The city of San Mateo agreed, and this February, charges against the surfers were dropped, citing "insufficient evidence."

Intrigued by the case, The Inertia, Surfing's Definitive Online Community, and Surfrider Foundation created a short film exploring its implications - not only on the on beach access issues at Martin's Beach, but also across America.

Today, the surfers are free, but the gates remain closed and lawsuits continue as Surfrider Foundation has sued Khosla for infringement of the California Coastal Act.

Similar access issues have bubbled to the surface in Chicago, Texas, and New Jersey, and these legal battles will have a meaningful impact on how American citizens access them.

It may be true that nobody owns the beach. But how we get there is another story altogether. Please take a minute and watch the story of five surfers using their constitutional rights to battle a billionaire and ensure America's beaches are free for all to enjoy.