How To Not Get Robbed

What I learned from an encounter with a car thief

A packed lineup of empty cars in Cardiff, California. Photo: Glaser

A packed lineup of empty cars in Cardiff, California. Photo: Glaser

I recently had to get out of the water early. I ‘d busted a fin off, so my session was over. The morning crew was in full effect, and the parking lot was packed.

That's when I saw him.

He was about 40 years old, five and a half feet tall, and dressed in cool-weather running gear that included lightweight gloves. Only the problem was, he wasn't a runner. He was a car thief. Or more precisely, he was breaking into surfer's cars. I watched him from a distance. And when he got to my car, I was ready.

The way I was parked, he didn't see me crouched behind the front end of my car. So when he peered into the back of my SUV, and then opened the window when he saw it was unlocked, I sprung.

"See anything you like?" I asked as I walked up behind him.

He had no answer. And nowhere to run. I had him cornered.

"Look man, I don't want any trouble" was all he could stammer out as I had clearly surprised him.

"I'm not going to call the police," I said. "But I do want to know how you're doing what you're doing. I don't want to know why. I want to know how.”

And that started our conversation. For the next half-hour, he stood there and gave me his secrets. He told me that this area was no longer going to be a regular stomping ground for him, so he figured, "What the hell…why not?"

Here are the things that thieves look for when breaking into our cars:

1. Surf Stickers
This is the easiest way for thieves to identify who is likely out in the water and won’t be anywhere near the car for an extended period of time.
SOLUTION: Leave your car logo-free, so nobody that sees it from a distance even knows you're in the water.

2. Secluded Parking Spots
Parking under a shady tree to keep those extra boards in the car cool or your drink from warming up? Easy target. Parking way down the road to avoid paying the meters that everyone else is at? Easy target.
SOLUTION: Park in a highly visible spot. This might not be the best idea for a towel change, but if you want to have a towel to come back to, it's a good idea.

3. Loads and Loads of Gear In Your Car
Loading up your car with three or four buddies and all your boards and gear is surely better for the environment than everybody driving separately. But with all that gear piled in the car while you're out in the water, it also makes you an easy target. By stealing just a few small things and not getting greedy, the group may not even notice this until much later.
SOLUTION: Minimize. Or at least do a better job of hiding the bags of gear in your car. Hint: You’re not fooling anyone by shoving everything under that big beach blanket. Don't draw attention to where the valuables are stored.

4. Convertibles (With The Top Left Down)
This section also includes Jeeps that have removable tops. Any car that makes it easier to access your vehicle is easy pickings for a thief.
SOLUTION: Secure your car. If you have a truck with a sliding rear window,make sure it's actually locked. My thief told me that you'd be surprised how many times people leave things like that unlocked. He's in and out of a truck like that in less than 30 seconds.

5. Hiding Your Key On Your Vehicle
This is by far the most common thing that we as surfers do. We tuck it up under the wheel, bumper, or tailgate. And usually we do it in plain view of thieves who are just waiting for us to give them an easy shot at all the things in our cars.
SOLUTION: Get a string/shoelace/necklace and put the key around your neck. If you have one of those fancy cars that has an electronic key, then you can go to your local locksmith and have them make a "door only" key that can go on that string around your neck.

6. Shitty Cars
Let's face it, surfers have their share of rusted-out shit boxes. Well, they're usually pretty easy to break into and pilfer through.
SOLUTION: ?

After our conversation, I let him go. He walked across the street, hopped in his Prius, and drove off.

Then I wrote down his license plate and called the cops. They caught him within a half hour.