The annual Ocean Beach Marshmallow Fight — a beach tradition that follows the Fourth of July community fireworks show from the OB Pier — has seemingly turned from frivolous fun to tasteless controversy in the eyes of some.
What began in 1985 as a small, interfamily affair between the Grosch and Zounes families, who hosted rival Fourth of July holiday parties, has morphed over time into a large-scale, frenzied event leaving the community to clean up the gooey mess.
Fun is fun, but some merchants and residents are beginning to wonder whether it’s time for the party to be over.
“What started out as a friendly thing with OB kids has just gotten out of hand,” said longtime Ocean Beach resident Bill Joyce, chef/owner of Surfside Cuisine Catering. “I really was upset about it this year. It was so much more than expected. Just massive amounts of marshmallows and the boardwalk literally caked.”
The time — and expense — of cleaning marshmallows from the Fourth of July mess are mushrooming, said critics.
“We’re attempting to deal with it as best we can,” said Denny Knox, executive director of the OB MainStreet Association, which has nothing to do with organizing the event. “We’ve spent $3,000 [so far this year]. Once it (mess) was small, on the sand and could be raked up pretty easily. Now it’s really gotten too big.”
Knox said the gooey, yucky marshmallow aftermath, which used to get cleaned up in a matter of hours, is now taking weeks or even months to eradicate.
There are other problems associated with it, too.
“It’s gumming up a lot of things — our cleaning equipment — costing dollars we could be spending on some truly nice things for the community, rather than cleaning up marshmallow goo,” Knox said.
Knox said she has gotten about 250 e-mails the past several days from businesses and residents complaining about the marshmallow mess and asking, “What are you going to do about it?”
Haley Haggerstone, chapter coordinator for the nonprofit Surfrider Foundation, whose mission is to protect the oceanfront, spent July 5 with others at Ocean Beach trying to clean up after the Independence Day festivities.
Haggerstone said volunteer crews picked up 1,800 pounds of trash on
July 5, “95 percent of which was probably marshmallows.”
“I’ve seen it evolve. It’s grown,” said Haggerstone, an Ocean Beach resident.
What to do about the annual tradition is problematic.
“How do you stop it?” asked Haggerstone. “I’ve heard a lot of talk about shutting this down. But how do you shut down an unorganized thing that’s been going on for 25 years? ”
There could be at least one clear-cut solution though.
“If you contribute to it, you should be part of the cleanup effort the next morning,” Haggerstone said.
Joyce said the marshmallow madness has reached the point where it’s become a community blight.
“It’s just disgusting,” he said. “I think the majority of the locals don’t want it after this year after seeing what it did to our community. There’s still thousands and thousands of them (marshmallows) in the sand.”
Joyce offered another possible solution to address the mess: have people who are cited for Fourth of July weekend offenses help in the cleanup to teach them a lesson about social responsibility.
“We’re looking for a solution,” said Knox.
She added the next step in counteracting the marshmallow mess could be contacting the Ocean Beach Town Council and having the issue put on its next agenda, or to hold a special town hall meeting on the subject.
Meanwhile, a Facebook page titled “No Marshmallow Wars” has been set up to allow people to vent about Ocean Beach’s “marshmallowing” problem.