Article

How To Not Get Robbed

What I learned from an encounter with a car thief

| posted on April 03, 2013

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.

  • http://www.facebook.com/andrewtullphotography Andrew Tull

    haha, awesome!

  • keyholes

    The door-only key is also called a Valet key and is perfect for cars with electronic keys.

  • Marco

    Hahahahahaha, ending is just perfect … :D :D :D

  • Hayley

    I don’t have surf stickers and I was parked in the MOST visible spot at pipes, in broad daylight. Window was broken and my bag with computer gear jacked. I bet it was that guy.

  • shea

    Should of kicked the crap out of him and then turned him in. He has been breaking into a bunch of cars. Hopefully they can trace him to Hayley’s car!!

  • Brian

    Assuming this story is true, not kicking the living shit out of this guy is debatably a bigger crime than his thieving. Oh, but you called the cops? He’ll face a first offense misdemeanor petty theft, which he’ll plead down to an infraction.

    He’ll end up with less of a fine than a speeding ticket. You’ve done a disservice to us by letting him go. I’m no fan of physical violence, but in this circumstance the end justifies the means.

  • Jim

    Why did you leave your car unlocked? That is just making easy for jerks like that guy to rob you.

  • Guit Dufau

    “I don’t want to know why”. (I don’t care if your family is starving)

    “I want to know how ” (Then I could write a piece of journalism full of cliches and platitudes and get paid for it)

    “Then I wrote down his license plate and called the cops” (Protection of sources,
    reporter’s privilege in the US, doesn’t apply to Surf Media Hipsters)

  • imdumb

    One time I met a doctor who performed breast enhancement surgeries on camels. He talked to me for a long time about stuff. See? I can make up stories too!

  • Luciano

    FANTASTIC STORY

  • http://www.michaelyankaus.com Mik

    kinda believable, until the part about the thief driving off in a Prius…?…!

    everyone knows that Cameros are the chosen wheels for the criminal mind.

  • johnny

    I’m screwed! I do all those things and have a jeep soft top with stickers!

  • dsfjkl

    Sounds like a lie. He just stayed there and told you how to break into cars? He didn’t run away? The first thing you thought when he was breaking into your car was “I should interview him, so I can write a story about it”?

  • David Lilley

    Oh give me a break (my family is starving)…dude, did you really go there??
    These clowns aren’t breaking into cars to “feed their poor families” so don’t kill us with your “rob from the rich to feed the poor” crap…these a-holes are out there to score a fast buck so they can feed their poor starving habits.

    While the story might or might not be true, the fact remains that there’s douchebags out there jacking people’s property all the time. So the point is to be smart and park your car in a safe spot, stow your gear, lock ‘er up and enjoy the real reason why you’re there.

    And if you do catch some a-hole breaking into your car, it’s your option to call the cops before he “falls up a flight of stairs” or afterwards…

  • Dewey

    I got a lock box from Home Depot. Lock my truck, put the key in the lock box. Lock it to the trailer hitch in the back of the truck. Yes, you could open it with bolt cutters but not many sneak thiefs carry bolt cutters. Worth the investment.

  • Bill C.

    My question is why is a car theif driving a Prius?! Can someone tell me that one. So is this car theif wearing expensive clothes while holding a little dog. “In the back of mind throughout this whole story I thought “Oh it’s some raggy bum trying to get a hold of things from surfer’s cars.” But a PRIUS….wow!!!

  • kale

    shitty cars ? if I a shitty car then I obviously have nothing of value … an why would you want my piece o shit car that barley runs when im parked next to a bmw

    • J.D.

      BC there’s an iPhone in both of them, and the BMW has an alarm.

  • http://can´taffordonebutdoingmybest el loco drogadicto

    Well, the writer of this particular article has a kid´s imagination, is lying or he modified the story from the actual truth. He buddy talked to the guy (who was dressed like a runner..if he was dressed as a surfer he was just a brother looking for wax right?), got his “secrets” (wich are not the holy grail, just plain common sense) and then called the cops?? …C´mon amigo!! No hero or anti-hero award here for you.There are several things in this article that just dont make sense. Here is a situation that happened last year down here. I belong to the “first shift” at El camarón (Lupe´s for the old timers), since last summer at 6 am the parking lot gates are closed so we have to park al the McDonald´s parking lot that is in front across the street. Everyday a car got broken into until the “first shift” had a meeting and decided to give 20 pesos a day for all of us to the security guard of the fiesta land people (that´s like 2 pesos a day for each of us), No more problems!!!. then the security guy got transfered to “guard” some wharehouse or something so we dont give 20 pesos anymore but our cars are fine now. Truth is, they always works in pairs….if your story is true, the other guys was watching you at close range probably ready for whatever and you didnt have any idea.

  • Sean

    Always take your key with you, even if it means hiding it under a rock or trashcan where you surf, far away from watching eyes.
    Do not bring valuables in your car. Nothing to steal means you lose nothing.
    Expect to get robbed even if you haven’t. Plan on losing whatever you leave in the car that way you are not disappointed when you do get jacked.
    I leave cheap sunglasses only. If I have to leave my wallet, I separate it from my pants and hide it in a place that they won’t be able to check quickly. Not a glove compartment, or center console or under a seat, but behind a dashboard or up in the springs of a seat.

    Real or imagined, this story brings up a good discussion on this common problem. I never understood the surf sticker. Why do you advertise for a corporation? So it says “I surf”? lame

    • J.D.

      So it says I support my favorite shaper who is a hard working artist, or I support my friends T-shirt company so he can become successful and not forced to drive the rusted-out shit box mentioned in the story. Small companies make stickers too.

  • Abigail

    I had my car broken into while surfing a beach break north of San Francisco a few years ago. Another local who I didn’t know well, but who knew my car and my board, saw the asshat rifling through my car, pulled him out, and punched him in the face. Broke his nose. When I came up the cliff after surfing I was treated to the sight of a bloody gang-banger in handcuffs, a dude I’d seen a couple of times in the line-up, and a cop. I bought my new friend a case of beer and a few bars of wax, thanked him, and never stashed my keys in my bumper again. That’s a true story- this blog post? I doubt it…

  • Blair

    … should of roughed him up instead of “interviewing” the a**hole.

  • http://www.mc2-productions.com Mark Cole

    those fancy keys won’t let you lock the car if they key is inside. they will let you lock the car if the key is outside, but you can unlock it right away. the only solution is to take the key with you and hide it on the lifeguard tower or in a bush somewhere away from your car.

  • shuen

    If the story is true hittin’ him a few times in between getting him to snitch and getting him arrested would have been the triple whammy, but maybe there was a second guy ready for whatever. Then again, if you were a jacker and your partner got rolled up on, you may or may not stick around…

  • Frank P

    Why didn’t you call the cops? You let him go to rob other surfers in another area. OR, this whole thing is bs and you just gave this robber interview story to make your tips seem relevant because you didn’t have anything else for a column.

    • Me

      Why don’t you read the entire story?

  • Pat Judd

    Wow…nothing greater then catching a thief. You should have called out to everyone around you and gathered them all around this a-wad and then just wailed on him. No doubt everyone in that parking lot has had their vehicle hit at some point in they’re life. Here was the supreme opportunity for everyone to get a little pay back. Also, take the freaks picture and put it on a poster to be hung somewhere prominent in the lot. As for interviewing him, gee, what’s next? A starbucks card!!!!

  • Kf

    “Valet key” in which country dickhead.

  • James

    most of these are obvious…but what’s up with surf stickers? Just because he knows the owner surfs doesn’t mean he knows how long he’ll be in the water. Case in point – your story. Plus, any car parked at the beach means someone is out surfing, walking, or on the sand…and will be back at some unknown time in the near future. Just lock your dumb car, don’t leave your iPhone on the passenger’s seat, and take your frickin’ key. It’s 2013, if your wetsuit or trunks don’t have a key loop or pocket, TIME FOR AN UPGRADE.

  • ray

    I used to park my truck @ Torrey Pines for years, and yell when I got out of it…”steal this one, the keys on driver tire”! Of course they would steal stuff all around me, but never me!? Might be the formula

    • SJ

      I live down the street from torrey and have no idea why you would actually drive to such a horrendous spot. It’s close outs for daysss.

  • b boy

    Frank P, read the article fully.

  • James

    I know in durban, (according to my South African mate) there’s a bikie at one of the local spots, you pay him a few bucks to hold your keys. No cars get touched in that cr park.

  • Luke

    I am your father

  • Smithers

    Came up on two kids trying to let themselves into my car a couple hundred yards north of where this cover photo was taken a few weeks ago. While I try to promote anti-fear of one other and ‘it ain’t as bad as they make it out to be in the media” on the daily, thieves are out there unfortunately. Don’t make it easy for them, stay sharp my friends.

  • John

    I am not being sarcastic or even critical when I say that this article appears to me to be an entertaining and amusing piece of fiction, that the author is not really denying, just not saying out loud. I would find the story a lot more intriguing and memorable though, if it were true.

  • John

    ie: my comment was more of a question than a statement

  • Robo

    Years ago, at San Elijo State Beach, I was going to my van and as I walked toward it, I saw a guy break my wind wing on the drivers side and break in. He had his arm through the window when I came up to him. I nailed him in the side of the head and started to kick the sh*t out of him. He pulled his arm out of the window and tried to run away. I tackled him and kept punching him. He yelled, “Hey man, be cool, I’m sorry.” I kept pummeling him and got a hold of his wallet. I took all of his money (not much, less than $20 in some bills). I told him to get the phu*k outta here before I kill you.” He’s lucky I didn’t have a baseball bat…I was so mad I would have crushed his head wide open….I’m lucky I didn’t have it…I’d probably have gone to jail. Hate thieves…..

  • The Equalizer

    Could we just get a simple article por favor on how to take out a car thief with the least hassle. Armed, unarmed, groundwork, keysi, multiple aggressors.

    That would be great.

  • Jon

    Me and my girlfriend were surfing on an Indian reservation in the middle of nowhere. A place I had surfed plenty of times and never had a problem. Except this time I chose to park out of view because I couldn’t fit all our stuff in my trunk. Well, I learned my lesson. After hiking back from a super fun session just the two of us, we found my side window smashed in and my jacket and her purse (incl checkbook) gone. Oh well, lesson learned. It didn’t even bum us out that much because the surf had been so fun, but the mistakes we made were so obvious and probably avoidable.

  • Leo

    Oh yeah last week i saw this bike thief riding my bike, so I waved him down and bought him some coffee and asked him how he stole my bike.

  • Jimbo Jones

    I am a thief. I steal constantly. I surf constantyl too. I make a point to never steal from people though. That’s the lowest from of pilfering. If you are going to steal shit steal from companies who can afford to have things nicked.
    The consequence from stealing from companies is actually higher and there is more risk involved but why would you steal from someone who is basically in the same boat as yourself in that they are also apart of the society we all live in.

    Im all for stealing to survive and for kicks but just not from fellow people.
    Lifes hard enough without people bending us over

    • Marci

      A thief is a thief.

  • Johnny O

    solution – surf your local break not someone elses

  • http://www.parafinaco.com Carlos

    Here is a cool trick to keep your belongings safe while you are out surfing.
    http://carletessaez.tumblr.com/post/47383593997

  • Batman

    Owen Wright and Gabriel Medina have both been robbed in the recent past, any advice for them?

  • Batman

    Jimbo James – stealing from companies is not without consequences for your fellow man. Are you really only stealing to put food on the table? Will the security guards lose their jobs where you steal? Will people be laid off. I know all your non thieving friends will be paying extra to cover the costs lost due to your sticky fingers. Are those companies not owned by people? Nothing to be proud of mate, get your kicks in a different way if you want others to take ethics classes from you!

  • Kent

    Great artcle.
    Although it does not have much to do with the sport of surfing itself, it is certainly something that every surfer should be aware of.
    This “How to” blog is one of my favorites on the internet and should be updated more often and incorporated into the magazine.

  • Mike

    Yup… that happened to me, sucks bad!
    I hid the Key, came back and the key was on the ground and all my stuff was gone.
    Now I keep my license, cash, and key in a water proof wallet under my wetsuit, or around my waist in summer.
    I put the Key fob and old phone in a lock box attached to the inside of the trunk, and leave the smartphone at home. The lock box is intended for a firearm, with a combination lock, only $25.

  • Bill

    I think the question is not whether the article is true but rather are the points valid and are they presented in an entertaining way. For me, a whitewater paddler confronted with many the same issues, it scores on both counts. And I won’t feel cheated if it turned out to be fiction. It’s not like the guy is claiming to have won a Navy Cross.

  • David

    This article hits home with me. My truck was stolen out of upper upper class neighborhood while I was surfing. One of the guys followed me to the spot to keep watch on me while the other started breaking in. My truck was found 3 days later with the sound system gone.

    I’m ready to start my own f*cking “Bait Car” here in Hawai’i. Tweakers are taking everything! Excuse my negativity, but I wish to beat the s*it out of these thieves!!!

    • Jo

      Car bait is awesome idea. I’ve also been thinking of doing motorbike bait in Indo. They easily reach in the space under the seat by pulling it from under.

  • David

    Since then I’ve been using a key lock box attached to and hidden in my rear bumper, but thieves broke in 9 times since then via breaking either the window or the door locks.

    Just wanted to share my experiences

  • dave

    The dude at Rincon just smashed my window… cool article tho

  • Andreas

    Many of the car manufacturers provide special keys just for maintainance / car workshop purpose. They are not packed with all that electronical stuff like batteries, transponders … and some of them are made from a small plastic part without any metal parts suffering the salty water.
    You probably can’t start the engine with those keys but you can safely close the doors and take the key while you are surfing.
    I have a VW Van and I can put this little thing into the pocket of my boardshorts …

    It does not prevent you from smashed windows or broken door locks but you don’t have to put the key on the tire anymore …
    Now, close all doors and go surfing again… ;-)

  • http://nathanpetty.com Nathan

    Had a truck ripped from Pipes years ago. That whole Cardiff stretch is a target because of visibility. Good going nailing this hoodlum. And you think he’s not coming back? Think again.

  • konaono

    good job until the end…. I was taught that stealing is the same thing as lying…

  • Fredo

    I don’t get it. Put the key in the handy dandy pouch in your wetsuit. Lock the car and open it with your key when you get out. Been doing this for ever. . .

  • drew68

    dawn patrol down in IB (SD)….7am i get out of the water and my backpack and clothes are gone. someone broke into my car with my key (inside part of the tire) …surprisingly he left my spare board in my car. i go home after school and my dad’s staring at me like “i’m going to beat the chit out of you”…apparently this prick put some cocaine in my bag, dropped it off in front of the police station with my wallet. they call my dad and i spent the next 3 hours defending myself telling him i’m not a drug addict. LOL

  • drew68

    btw..most wetsuits come with key pouches…that’s what they’re for

  • Carlos Jnr

    Lock your keys in a key safe…”Keypod” is the best solution http://key-pod.com/

  • Zensurf

    I usually hide the key aways from the car. Some distant plant or even in the sand in a small plastic bag. If you do it discretely no one will notice unless the thieve has been following you for a while.

  • Ben

    Hahaha ruthless at the end, top stuff

  • Woody

    Good article and too true. At C-street and Emma Wood in Ventura they sit and watch for key-stashers. If anything happens to your car at Emma Wood you will never know until you get out of the water. It is best to do the “Valet Key” method on a string around your neck if you wear a wetsuit, or in your trunks or leash if you do not. Oh, and the #1 reason people get their cars broken into is that they leave valuables in plain sight. Hide your wallet, cash, iPhone, computer, etc…!!!

  • Rene

    Still working on the car only key. I’ve got it but dunno how it works. I still do need the electronic thing to get the car started and I cannot manually lock the car with the ‘real’ key while the electronic one is still inside the car.
    Am I missing something here/Am I just getting too old?

  • Saltmasters

    How about a POS beach car? Living on St. Maarten, I left my radioless Izuzu unlocked with a boardbag attached to a bicycle lock. On the beach a weighted towel with plastic bag buried underneath with valuables. And nobody called the police in SXM.

  • Pablito

    I had my van stolen in Mexico, not a drop of broken glass. Inside job, probably. My car was stolen in Carlsbad as I was talking to a friend. Got it back three weeks later. I caught some guy going through my car at Terramar as I was watching the sunset . I tried to smash him in with the car door. His buddy flashed his lights and alerted him. I should’ve taken his photo and the car behind me license plate. I didn’t think about til later. I went for a paddle with a friend at Ponto. When we got back to our cars, my buddy saw his door ajar. He checked his car and found that his debit card was gone. When I went to open my door ,I unlocked the car, which locked it. I just thought I didn’t lock the car. I checked for anything missing and didn’t see anything gone. The next day buying gas no debit card. Thieves are out of control. Don’t have anything in your car that you will miss, even your wallet.

  • Cat

    I always thought about leaving a snake in a purse…

  • bryan

    This story is so fake. Lame. This writes is a total puss to boot.

  • digger

    I came back early to see a guy in my car who watch where I stashed my key. I now have a stash in my leash. I wish i did not scream at him from a distance so i could have caught him and beat the fuck out of him.

  • Phil Wollerman

    One day years ago in New Zealand I went out in the water and left my shit-box in the carpark that was pretty full, with my GF hanging inside because it was cold and rainy.

    When I came in early, however, she’d gone for a walk and taken the keys. Across the way a carload of local hoods were watching me, one of them came over and said want a hand bro? Then wedged a screwdriver into the top of the door so it opened far enough to reach the latch with his wire coathanger. Took about 5 seconds. Big grins all around – thanks mate.

    Since the proliferation of crystal – P as it’s known here – I don’t think this would happen now. These guys weren’t stealing from surfers, out of respect, and helping me (hapless white boy) out made a point of it.

    I like to think that’s the case, anyway…

  • D Paul

    Thank you for sharing.

  • gtbike

    My credit card is maxed out, my car is a POS a thief might be just what I need to blame and punch for such a sucked up life.

  • Joseph Neves

    I bring along an extra key and thread it onto my baggie string, then I tie a double bow.

  • BossMan

    I’ve been broken into twice. Literally. They broke the window, twice. Now I bring nothing except what I can take down to the beach and I leave the car unlocked. Haven’t had anything stolen since. Then again, there would be nothing to steal except a couple cloth bags or CDs. Nobody wants CDs anymore.

  • truth

    Somebody should bait the entire coastline of Costa Rica! You cant even leave a half a bar of wax in your car.

  • joben

    i would rather have my car broken into then surf with a shoe string around my neck holding my car key

  • eddy

    Ray, I don’t doubt your story is true at all. But by now you’ve learned that the only thing you do by writing an online article is to invite all of depraved humanity to disbelieve you, dispute you, discount you, disregard you, dismiss you, despise you and discourage you. All reasons why Jesus died for them anyway (now watch what they do with THAT).

  • Larry Kelp

    I put my key in my wax pocket of my trunks under my wetsuit, and have nothing of any value in your car, (I have nothing of any value anyway, so it’s easy), don’t bring credit cards in your wallet, even hide your wallet someplace separate from your clothes.

  • Pat

    my car was broken into in huntington beach last nov. she saw me put my key in my towel and leave it on the beach. yes, i was a dumbass and did not realize my wetsuit had a key pocket until 3 months later. best part of the day, she locked my car and took my keys leaving me and my buddy stranded cold as shit in the dark locked out of my car. finally found a taxi and managed to fit 2 longboards and us in it back to longbeach. transferred my number to a new phone and had tweakers calling me all week.. she was a dealer and her people were trying to reup. thru the calls, her trying to sell my shit on craigslist, mini sting, and her dumbass using all our cards at target she was arrested and is locked up for over a year as she was linked to a string of other break ins and felony charges. i felt bad cus she probably was just gonna use the money to get high and now she’s totally f*cked, but i suffer through a 9 to 5 to occasionally get high, to live comfortably, and to escape the bs corporate minutia thru surfing on the wknds. she can get high on her own dime. she also had 3 first names …which is a huge cause to worry.

  • ken

    Nice one! Always have my key in my wetsuit, ever since day one!

  • Evinrude surfer

    Key stash …simple solution ..a lock box from Lowes costs about $ 20.00 fact being Locks keep honest people honest A good ole fashion ass beating from the the local s keeps the assholes away !.. :) i never have had a problem @ Cardiff

  • fef

    best part of the story is he drove away in his Prius, what a pompous douche.

  • SeaWeed83

    spoken like a true surf ninja. No worries, I won’t call the 5.0 on you. Wait for his ass to peel out then call the popo

  • ToughStuff2012

    I don’t keep valuables in plain sight in the cabin. Most things go into the trunk. If there are valuables I need to keep in the car, they go into a nanovault safe that’s in the truck and cabled around a part of the vehicle or spare tire.

  • Vincent Scorza

    I don’t like to wear my car key around my neck. I charge a little too hard to make that work. I would lose it in about 2 minutes.
    I hook the key loop around the elastic string inside my board short’s pocket. So my key is hooked onto something, inside a pocket, with a velcro closure. For you cold weather guys, my advice is to loop it onto the clothes tag inside your suit.
    Too much surfing at Rockaway when I was younger to EVER hide a key on my car!