Grey-brown dunes covered by a patchwork of shrubbery make the drive into Border Field State Park resemble any other coastal park in Southern California. But the final stretch leading to the parking lot draws you next to something unique: the U.S.-Mexico border wall. This section of the southern border in San Diego County has had some kind of permanent wall since 1989, with upgrades and reinforcements over the years.
As you pull into the parking lot, the 46 mile-long structure winds as far as you can see in the rear-view mirror. Ahead, the wall drops to the shore and runs into the Pacific Ocean.
This was the setting that artist Diego Palacios chose for “Surf Border”—held last month. Palacios invited surfers from either side of the wall to meet in the open ocean and, as the California-native put it, “catch waves in the spirit of brotherly love.”
Palacios organized the event with the help of the art collective Machine Project, and it took some coordination with U.S. Customs and Border Protection. The original invitation for people to surf “across” the border had to be changed to “at” the border, per the government’s request. A list of guidelines was handed out to participants which included a warning to “avoid physical contact with those on the opposite side of the border.” (Machine Project’s managing director, Meldia Yesayan confirmed that this included refraining from high-fives.)
The Mexican shore was packed with picnickers, and food vendors, being entertained by a raucous brass band. Save for Surf Border participants, the U.S. side was all but deserted—the wall itself seems to repel sun-seekers. “If bringing attention to this spot encourages surf contests, encourages the kinds of recreation that occurs in any other state park,” Palacios said, “I’ll be extremely happy.”
Making most Americans feel at ease on this beach may take some time. Isaac Shapiro who is originally from Pennsylvania, made the 2.5 hour drive from Long Beach, CA to see the border wall for the first time. “I come from Philadelphia. We don’t have any borders by us,” he said. “It feels really fucking weird.”