Saturday, December 11, 2004


Locals Only

Spoof website causes media mayhem.

A spoof Cornish website caused absolute mayhem in the national British press over the weekend of 20-21 November. The site,, lampoons local Cornish surfers, surfing tribalism (localism), and the local councillors responses as to what they perceive to be the cause of the ‘Locals only!’ graffiti on Portreath harbour wall.

In truth nothing of the sorts exists in Portreath, a small Cornish fishing village nestling amongst the craggy cliffs that face the Atlantic. Not that would bother the journalists about to descend in search of blood and gore. Surfers fighting fellow surfers for wave rights in Cornwall could sell a lot of newspapers, and spring any journalist lucky enough to uncover such goings on into the national headlines. And that is exactly what happened.

The tale begins some ten years ago when some young oik painted 'Locals only' on the harbour wall. Apparently he didn’t really know why he was doing it as there had never been any localism there ever, and it wasn’t likely that there was ever going to be as most the surfers in Portreath are pretty friendly bunch.

Fast forward to October 2004 and someone on an irregular visit to the village spots the graffiti, mistakes it for Cornish nationalism and complains to the local newspaper, the West Briton. The paper then runs letters on the subject for three consecutive weeks.

The highly entertaining letters covered nationalism/terrorism/racism/a protest against inflated house prices/holiday and second homes, in fact everything and anything but surfing. The sum was a hilarious series of newspaper articles that completely missed the point and had all the local surfers in west Cornwall thoroughly enjoying the free entertainment... Then popped up, obviously taking the micky out of the whole situation. Localism was especially satired with ‘the Locals Only group” being portrayed as rather stupid ‘pards’ who couldn’t decide who was local, holed up in a disused mine with all their best laid plans ending in ridicule.

Enter a local reporter, Warren Wilkins, who got hold of the website address and decides to ask if they intend to branch out into Newquay. A stupid question answered, well, stupidly. “Newquay has been annexed by Manchester so it would be too big a job...We got some red ‘Locals only’ tape that we can put up though.” (Yes, that would stop surfers rampaging toward perfect surf wouldn't it?) actual corrospondence can be read on page 3 of the view points section of this site

Only the imaginative local journo manages to get some mileage out of the quote and announces “Selfish plan to block beach” in the Newquay Voice, continuing “An emerging ‘Locals Only’ campaign which aims to keep visiting surfers out of the water along Newquay’s beaches has been condemned by tourist leaders...” The head of tourism for Cornwall expresses concern for the regions 40 million surfing industry, the head of the British Surfing Association condemns the group and from there all media hell breaks loose.

As were demanding ‘carrot free pasties”, “free cider”, “discount cards” to a discount store to be “anonymously distributed (names to be supplied later)” and a new ladder, respected journalists from local TV, Arifa Akba from the Independent and Simon de Bruxelles from the Times descend upon the small village to find the heavy locals who were now apparently holed up in disused Cornish tin mines! (It has to be pointed out here that ALL the journalists had read the entire sites contents, but all ignored the fact that it was obviously a spoof.)

Being good natured welcoming sorts that would have hated to see the hard working journalists leave without a story, Portreath’s local surfers agree to meet them. Local radio station, Radio Cornwall, carries a three hour phone in on the apparent problem swiftly followed by an only marginally more amusing ‘Aliens have landed’ phone in. Later that evening a ‘free thinking cell” dressed in a ridiculous coloured wetsuit and armed with the best beaten up 1980’s surfboard he could find, appears on BBC Spotlight TV news. After donning an open faced balaclava for anonymity (yes, one that covers everything but his face) he addresses the waiting TV cameras. “I’ve got a bit of red ‘locals only’ tape that I’m going to put around the beaches!” he imaginatively proclaims.

A local comedy legend is born, but it’s red tape to a journalist, and subsequent articles are published in the Times, The Independent, The Scotsman plus their associated websites and an interview with Radio 4 which wasn’t aired as they smelled a rat!

In fact there was so much media madness snowballing that the sites creator is forced to up a new opening page declaring in no uncertain terms that the site is definitely a hoax, and utters his disgust at the journalists for being such unprofessional fools.

It’s now Monday; the Locals Only website has now taken thousands of hits. More importantly the second Time’s piece “Beach boys wage war of the waves” by David Lister, who apparently mounted “a one man invasion” of the beach, is published.

The surfers are now having a field day. Some have even taken time of work after concocting hideous stories of beatings, bottle throwing and the intimidation of “foreign” surfers for more flocking journalists. Of course it’s all made up for the eager Mr Listers ears.

On land the spoofed reporters from the BBC Spotlight, The Times and the Independent are back in their offices with tails firmly between legs, and are trying to blame the website for their follies... Bittered by the whole experience they are now hell bent on wreaking revenge. After tracing the website registration they are on the case of the person they see as the main instigator.

The local reporter, Warren Wilkins, who is in the truth the main culprit in originally giving the story airtime and credibility, is calling around the surf industry trying to discredit a local surf photographer. The Spotlight cameraman is bombarding the Locals Only site’s forum with emails trying to post incriminating photos of who he thinks is the main protagonist. has published the name listed on the ‘Locals Only” website registration document, and are urging other journalists to do the same. (In their desperation they’ve even gone as far buying a similar sounding domain name to intercept any google searches and direct traffic to their journalistic site.) In truth they have all got rather bitter about the scene that they themselves created in search of word rates, and sensationalism. There’s egg on faces, down ties, all over suits and splattered over office walls. Careers have gone down the pan.

Down on the water off Portreath beach all is calm. The surf is still particularly average, there have been no beatings, no stabbings, no bottle throwings. There never have been, and probably never will be. The ‘Locals Only’ website has published a picture of the other side of the wall on which is daubed “Visitors only”. Some other bright spark has posted a note on the forum that he has kidnapped a local brass band trumpeter for the cause. Apparently it’s backfired and the trumpeter has drunk all his cider and is causing such a racket and he wants someone to someone and get him. Local newspaper hack Warren Walkins has published a story in the “Newquay Voice” stating “Group apologise over 'Locals Only' protest“ It’s about as far from the truth as his first piece that started the whole circus, but in his mind it’s made the word a happier place. It’s his way of saving face.

So if you thought journalists for such respected institutions as the BBC, and The Times were intelligent beings reporting unbiased honest manner, take note! All must have known it was a hoax from the beginning but relentlessly pursued the story and basically made up a war to suit their headlines. Then when things backfired and they looked like the fools they were, they threw all their toys out of their prams. As the website says, if they treat a story of this insignificance in this way who knows how they are acting in more important areas of life. Mind you, if you were a surfer in west Cornwall following the action, it was a very, very funny weekend!

* Please note: there has never been an incidence of localism at Portreath, ever!