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In Huntington Beach, a new wave of resentment revives '909er' stereotype

Recent street violence has fueled a resurgence of the term '909er,' a stereotype whose root refers to an area code but is shorthand for anyone east of the Orange County line.

September 23, 2013|By Paloma Esquivel

On a sunny September day, Christina Ayres lay on the sand near the Huntington Beach Pier, tanning in a pink bikini, and ticked off the things that identify a 909er.

Bad clothing — " 'Jersey Shore' style," the 29-year-old explained. And meth addicts. "That's what you hear on the news."

Over on Main Street, Ryan Kaupang, 21, had a more specific description: "White kids that dress like bros," he said, "bros" meaning people who wear cut-off jerseys and motocross gear and "try to act like tough guys."

For years, a stubborn divide between youth in Orange County's beach communities and those who visit from the inland has been summed up in the term '909ers,' a less-than-flattering reference to an Inland Empire area code that — in beach slang — has come to mean anybody east of the county line.

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Its popularity has waxed and waned but resurfaced with a vengeance in the aftermath of theU.S. Open of Surfing in Huntington Beach in July.

When the weeklong event ended in a chaotic night of broken windows, street fights and a mess of tossed food, word that 909ers were to blame spread quickly among locals, despite the fact that only three of the 12 adults arrested were from the Inland Empire. The rest were from Orange County, San Gabriel Valley and Ventura.

By the next day, residents in Huntington Beach and neighboring beach towns pointed toward the Inland Empire as the source of the bad behavior. Someone even created a Facebook page called Go Home 909ers, warning that "Southern California Beaches are for LOCALS ONLY." When an end-of-summer beach rave was staged this month, some worried about the 909ers it might attract. Though the event drew thousands, there were few problems.

"I hate the term '909ers,' " said Connie Boardman, the beach city's mayor. "Like it's some crime to be from some other part of California and come to our beach."

Yet a stereotype based on an area code persists.

Some say '909er' is used as a slur. Others say it's just used in jest. But in Huntington Beach, there is no escaping the 909 — or the 951, the 760, or any other area codes from which the city's 15 million tourists arrive every year. This is a city that thrives on tourism but has an increasingly tense relationship with tourists.

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There is no agreed-upon definition of a 909er. For some, it's just a catchall for the Inland Empire. For others, it conjures up an image of young people absorbed with dirt-bike gear and lifted trucks.

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