On October 15, 1908, the first Model T Ford rolled out of the Piquette Avenue Plant in Detroit, Michigan. It only took the bad guys a couple of years to figure there was big money to be made in stealing them. In fact by 1915, the Auto Club had to create a Theft Bureau to go looking for them.
Let's jump to the present...
San Diego has one of the highest auto theft rates in the United States of America. In a recent News 8 CrimeFighters report (KFMB San Diego), it was claimed that a car gets stolen every hour in San Diego County.
But perhaps no other group has experienced the phenomenon of car theft more acutely than the North County San Diego surfing community. In fact the word on the street -- or on the I-5 for that matter -- is that upwards of 15 cars a week are being nicked from the beachside parking lots in the region between the Palomar Airport Road and Del Mar/Torrey Pines exits. And as we'll get to here in just a moment, the number one target for these seaside rip-off artists is you: The guy wearing a wetsuit and holding a surfboard.
Three months ago, Britt Galland, Vice President of Marketing at No Fear in Carlsbad, decided to throw down for a new truck. First came the $26,000 to pay for the truck, then came $10,000 more to hop it up. "I bought a new Ford F150," says Galland, "then I went right out and had it lifted 8", bought 20" wheels, a new grill new, exhaust -- I bought all the bells and whistles -- and it was really dolled up. I was stoked with it."
Then came Friday, December 23, 2006 and a surf session at Pipes in Cardiff.
"I lent the truck to my son and he went surfing at Pipes in Cardiff," explains Galland. "Before he got in the water, he did what a whole bunch of surfers do, he hid the keys. People like myself might know about what can happen when you hide your keys, but there's a large group of young kids that don't really get it: People will watch you and take your shit and rip you off while you're out surfing."
Thus as fate would have it, when Britt's 20 year-old son paddled back in, the f150 was gone and so were his dad's iPod, camera, phone, cash, wallet, ID's and two surfboards.
"It's an attack on surfing," declares Galland. "Surfers are the easiest targets. Your 200 yards out in the water and your feet are frozen and you're nowhere near your car. So you're out in the water and you see some guy stealing your car, what are you going to do about it? You're not going to run in. The guy's going to get into your car -- with your keys! -- and he's not even going to have to break a window or anything. He's not even going to be threatened. Hell, he'll even have time to turn on the heater, put on the seatbelt, adjust the seat and drive away slowly. It's the perfect crime. But it's all 100% avoidable. Why make it so easy for these guys?"
What can make it unavoidable?
"There's this new innovation in the wetsuit industry. In fact it's actually been around for 30 years, but nobody uses it. It's called a key pocket."
As far as protecting yourself and your fossil fuel burning assets, Galland brings up a good point. But still, when it comes to people desperate for money, and the requisite need to steal other people's property, when there's an ill will, there's a way.
Take Chuck Elliott, a director of retail sales for Surfer magazine, and his recent wall-hit of an experience.
"I live In Encinitas and surf in Cardiff," begins Elliott, who makes a living walking in and out of surf shops. "I've been doing the same routine for 20 years. It was on a Sunday and I was watching a Chargers' game. At halftime, I decided to go surf for 30 minutes. It was sunny and killer out and I just wanted to get wet. I stashed my key -- I had a Hide-A-Key on my '02 Land Rover Discovery -- and got in the water. When I came back in, my car was gone. So was my camera, credit cards, wetsuits, iPod, a belt buckle I had from the 1976 Olympic Games and my wedding ring."
What did Elliot do? And what should you do?
"The first thing I did was run and call my wife and had her get all the credit cards cancelled. My wife's dad was a deputy sheriff in Encinitas for 14 years and that's one thing he has told us before: if your car gets stolen, always get your financials in order immediately because the thieves can use the credit cards to gas the car up."
Quick thinking and fast action provided Elliott's tale a slightly happier ending.
"Since my father-in-law got involved and helped out, they recovered my car in 10 hours. What must have happened is that the guys who stole it did some hard joy riding in it. They must have driven it hard through alleys and streets and hit curbs because it was way out of alignment and the steering rods and stuff were bent. They also cleaned the thing out. I was happy to get my car back, but still...
Like Galland, Elliott too has some simple advice on how to keep the hands of thieves of the steering wheel of your car or truck. "The number one target is when these guys pull up and see a surfer in a wetsuit holding a board," he offers. "I mean the guys who ripped off my car were most likely watching me from the parking lot with a pair of binoculars. It's a great lookout point. You just have to be careful and try your best to keep your eyes open and be aware of what's going on."
"And make sure you have homeowners insurance," insists Elliott. "Don't just buy car insurance because it doesn't cover the personal items in your car if it's stolen. That's the one positive thing I had going for me. I had homeowners insurance."
Okay. Fair warning. It sucks, but it's reality. There are plenty of car thieves out there with their sights set on you. Look out for one another. Work together. Help each other and don't allow yourself or a fellow surfer to be a victim