Ocean Beach Says It’s Time To Turn In Your Marshmallows
Tuesday, July 1, 2014
Aired 7/1/14 on KPBS News.
Ocean Beach residents say the sticky mess and rowdiness of the past indicate the annual 4th of July marshmallow fight must come to an end.
It started in the 1980s with a few families making s’mores on Ocean Beach following the fireworks. We can’t know when it will end, but the Ocean Beach Town Council really hopes it won't be coming back on Friday.
What’s this San Diego tradition, more honored in the breach than the observance? The annual July Fourth marshmallow fight.
The Fourth of July has literally created a sticky situation in Ocean Beach — known to locals as OB — and residents and business owners are telling beach revelers this year to turn over their marshmallows. A lot of them say last year’s marshmallow melee was the last straw.
“Last year, it felt almost riotous. It felt uncomfortable. Very uncomfortable,” said Steve Grosch, an OB businessman and a member of the Ocean Beach Town Council.
Grosch describes the marshmallow fight as chaotic. It’s thousands and thousands of people throwing marshmallows at each other, he said, and what’s become disturbing is the growing size of the mob and, above all, the big sticky mess they leave on the streets and sidewalks of Ocean Beach.
"I'm looking at it right now. Here at the foot of Newport and Abbott is Veterans Plaza,” he said, gesturing at the ground. “So the inscriptions on the medallions you see on the ground; those are all veterans. And right next to it you can see the black marks. That's not gum, that's leftover marshmallow residue that we couldn't get off the streets."
This happened despite the fact that many volunteers attacked the goo last summer with scrapers. Grosch said community groups even hired steam cleaners, at a cost of thousands of dollars, to try to clean things up.
The Ocean Beach Town Council has voted to end the marshmallow fight, but they don't actually have the authority to cancel it. You can say the same of the San Diego police, who point out that being pelted with marshmallows is not normally considered assault and battery. So ending the annual marshmallow fight will be a matter public opinion and persuasion.
The people hanging out on the seawall in OB, on a recent weekday, showed a range of opinion.
"The marshmallow fight is pretty awesome,” said San Diego resident Katrina Clayton as she watched the waves roll in near the lifeguard tower. "People go out and thoroughly enjoy themselves. Having a good time. It would be an absolute shame if it were to be shut down."
Connor Handley, who attended the marshmallow battle, said he used a one-inch in diameter PVC pipe as a blowgun. He said that making a mess created jobs for people who did the clean up.
Most — especially the ones who said they lived in Ocean Beach — did not like what this annual tradition had become. OB resident Mike Murphy said on July Fourth two years ago, he wanted to offer some protection.
"For people being bombarded by frozen marshmallows in various forms and stages. And again it's tracked into restaurants and people's homes,” Murphy said. “It's ridiculous!"
One story you hear a lot is that some people at the July Fourth fight freeze marshmallows or put screws in them to make them more aerodynamic and potentially more dangerous. Professional dog walker Jackie Kowalik echoed the anti-marshmallow sentiment as she held her current charge, a small black mixed breed.
"There's always like one lone flip-flop, stuck in the marshmallow the next day, and we've got to pitch in and clean up,” she said. “That's not what this is about, you know. I'm all about people having fun! But don't ruin my beach."
In an effort to stop the marshmallow fight, or at least prevent it being so puffed up, the OB Town Council is working with police to increase staffing this Friday. The council has launched a PR campaign. Its slogan is "Mallow Out.” Some people have taken the marshmallow pledge, agreeing to not sell or possess marshmallows in Ocean Beach until after the holiday.
It's ironic that Ocean Beach Town Council member Grosch is leading the charge to do away with this sugary beachside pillow fight, because his dad and mom helped establish the annual marshmallow fight in the 1980s. He said the family chose marshmallows for a simple reason.
"They had 'em handy,” he said. “They were going to roast some s'mores around the fire and it turned out they were excellent ammunition as well."
Back then, the marshmallow fight was confined to the beach. In recent years, the battle has spilled onto the streets and sidewalks, and Grosch believes that white stuff is encouraging some very bad behavior in Ocean Beach, and he has a new message for people about celebrating the holiday this week.
"Come down and enjoy the fireworks on the Fourth of July and leave the marshmallows at home."