“Hundreds of youths went on a rampage in Huntington Beach on Sunday afternoon, pelting police officers with rocks and bottles, storming a large lifeguard station and overturning and burning police vehicles.
Police said at least 12 people were injured, including five Huntington Beach officers and one Orange County sheriff’s deputy. Thirteen people were arrested but scores of youths who threw bottles at officers or took part in the destruction escaped in the confusion.
The disturbance broke out about 2 p.m. behind bleachers being used for the final day of the Ocean Pacific Pro Surfing Championships, which drew a crowd estimated at 100,000 people.
Witnesses said the melee had no direct connection to the surfing contest but instead was triggered by two or more men behind the bleachers immediately south of the Huntington Beach Pier who were trying to take off the bathing suits of two young women.
“We’ve got a riot and we’re making arrests,” Huntington Beach Lt. Jack Reinholtz said shortly after the melee began. He said it was the worst disturbance to occur in Huntington Beach since a 1969 Easter weekend riot.
He said his group of about 10 officers was surrounded by ‘about 5,000 people. They could have killed us if they wanted to.’”
— Los Angeles Times, September 1, 1986
On the last day of August, 1986, British artist/photographer Nick Waplington woke up late and turned on the news. An Aeromexico DC9 had collided with a light aircraft going to Big Bear for the weekend. Both aircraft dropped from the sky onto residential Cerritas, near Huntington Beach, just south of Los Angeles, killing all those onboard both planes— plus a number of people unlucky enough to be at home that Labor Day morning.
So what does Waplington do? He drove to Huntington Beach, where he had been planning to watch the OP Surf Pro Championship and upon arrival, discovered all hell breaking loose. With only one roll of film, he documented the chaos in 25 concise frame.
The photographs within Surf Riot contradict the standard imagery associated with American surf culture from the 1980s. Gone is the laid-back Adonis figure and his flaxen-haired beach babe, and instead, in full lurid color, we see sunburned teens running wild. Unlike other youth revolts, this surf riot bears little in the name of protest— it’s merely a spontaneous eruption of violence just for the sport of it. Coca Cola cups and radio station promotions lie trampled underfoot, commercial symbols of contentment cast aside.
New York based British artist Nick Waplington has created a number of acclaimed photographic books including Living Room (1991), Other Edens (1993), The Wedding (1994) Safety in Numbers (1996), and Truth or Consequences (2001). Solo exhibitions include The Philadelphia Museum of Modern Art, 1992, Photographer’s Gallery, 1995, the Underwood Street Gallery, 1999, and the Whitechapel Art Gallery in 2007. In addition, Waplington’s work was exhibited at the 2001 Venice Biennale and is held within a number of international collections, not limited to the MoMA, The Guggenheim, and the Victoria and Albert Museum.
* SURF RIOT is released in a strictly limited edition of 300 copies, with 100 specially packaged and containing a hand-numbered photographic edition.