Surf Cup Tsunami

Seven years after signing a controversial 2016 lease with Surf Cup Sports for use of the former Polo Fields in the environmentally sensitive San Dieguito River Valley, the City of San Diego is in the hot seat for its management of the 80-acre property.


A new complaint filed in April 2023 by the Fairbanks Polo Club Homeowners’ Association is asking for a California Superior Court judge to rule on the city’s failure to enforce what the group maintains are repeated violations of both the lease and controlling Grant Deed by Surf Cup Sports as the company has expanded its operations and activities. This includes unaddressed traffic, air quality, and other environmental impacts on the surrounding communities, as well as contentious modifications to the site. Surf surrounded much of the property with chain link fencing, poured a mid-field concrete pad, and most recently, began construction of a cordoned-off training facility for San Diego Wave FC, a National Women’s Soccer League expansion team.


The lawsuit specifically targets Surf’s aggressive commercial use of the 80-acre property for weekend soccer tournaments, daily practices, and non-sporting events well beyond the 25-day limit established by the Grant Deed that transferred the land to the city in 1983. Those activities now draw hundreds of thousands of people and vehicles each year to an area that was to be preserved as open space in a natural condition as near possible, according to the Grant Deed, “for passive non-commercial recreational uses (e.g. picnicking, walking, hiking, and similar activities), and reasonable support facilities…and active non-commercial recreational uses not involving large assemblages of people or automobiles….”

An aerial photo showing a typical weekend afternoon on the fields (February 2023). You can see the concrete pad in the center as well as part of the fenced-off Wave practice field and some of their trailers (lower left) as well as the fencing covered in black mesh that surrounds the fields. Photo by Jeffrey Carmel.

A previous lawsuit by The Friends of the San Dieguito River Valley (FSDRV) sought to require an Environmental Impact Report before the city approved the Surf Cup lease. That suit and subsequent appeal were denied based on the assumption that continued use of the property would not exceed the 25-day limit.


Although not a focus of the current lawsuit, Surf Cup is also required by the 28-year lease agreement, to restore the portion of the Coast to Crest Trail that parallels the fields at an estimated cost of $1 million. Other than a cosmetic brush and weed cleanup in early 2022, trail restoration has yet to begin.


In May the City filed a motion to change the venue from the North County Division to the Central District. That motion was denied by Judge Earl H. Maas III at a June 30 hearing. Next up is a case management conference scheduled for late September 2023. 

A typical weekday afternoon on Surf Cup’s Field #5. Located in the northeast corner of the 80-acre property, Field #5 is less visible but sees far greater use than the main fields. In addition to multi-day weekend tournaments Field #5 hosts soccer practices and scrimmages nearly every afternoon from 3 p.m. until dark throughout the year. This involves scores of players, their families, and hundreds of cars. Because daily use of Field #5 is not listed on any official Surf Cup calendar, such activities fly under the radar in broader discussions of days, events, or income from the site leased from the City of San Diego. Photo by Jeffrey Carmel.