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By Carlos Olvera
There has never been an age limit for surfers at Doheny, but “Pop” was the oldest. In 1960, at the age of 80, he was once quoted as saying, “Surfing keeps you in the greatest health—it’s a great body builder.” Then, for nearly 20 years he would surf every warm day.
He lived in his silver wood-paneled—chimney-equipped—1950 Dodge truck, with two surfboards mounted on top (last seen in the Surfing Museum in Huntington Beach in 1992), by the grace of the Doheny State Park Rangers. When asked why he did not have a house, he would respond that he sold his house in Taft, California, for $1,000. Pop had no children, but cared for each surfer like they were his own.
David Christakes remembers him from the mid-60s, “I never talked to Pop, but I surfed with him and listened to him. He was old, that was scary when you were 12 and your surfing group was everything.”
Pop was born Edward De Quincy Proctor on December 12, 1881 in Tynemouth, on England’s northwest coast, although he would rather say he was from Scotland. When asked about his middle name, his reply was, “I don’t use it.” He was of small stature, only 5 feet 7.5 inches in height and 145 lbs. His parents moved here, but at the age of 12 in 1893 he was sent back to England because, as he would say, “They took God out of the schools.” His grandfather was a clergyman in the Church of England and may have had an influence on this decision. He left England graduating as an engineer in the merchant marines, like his father, and took employment in Montreal, Canada. He eventually took up residence in Chicago, Illinois, in July 1903. Soon after he moved to California, but not until after working on a ferry in Constantinople or mining for gold in Mexico.
By 1940, Proctor lived in Taft, California, working for General Petroleum Co. (think Doheny). He was an electrician, machinist, blacksmith and automotive garage attendant by trade—or maybe a jack-of-all-trades would be easier to say. He was married once for a year when he was 50; she was 18. His philosophy on marriage was, “What do you think of being a slave the rest of your life?” In 1941, he applied to become a U.S. citizen. He retired from the oil company in 1943 and became a citizen on July 13, 1945.
Pop took up surfing at San Onofre and Doheny in 1937, at the age of 56, and even included Venice commuting on weekends from Taft, some 200 miles. He then chose Doheny as his “home” after his retirement. It was just before the end of the war, and with most of the young men gone, he had the beach to himself. He was accepted as a paid lifeguard at Doheny at age 63 for two years and became a lasting mentor to future lifeguards. In his spare time, he would phone in the weather conditions to Scripps Institution of Oceanography. Based on doctor orders for a sore throat, back in about 1930, he quit smoking and never had a drink before noon. With dinner he choose a glass of red wine with 7Up and referred to it as “sanka poho.” He routinely retired to his truck about 10 p.m. getting up at 8 a.m. Breakfasts were just two slices of toast with a slice of Swiss cheese and coffee, and fruit the rest of the day. But on Sundays it was ham and eggs at a restaurant. Then there was always “the catch of the day” smoked fish. He thought wetsuits and scuba gear made people weak. He kept active with daily four mile walks vowing to surf until he was one hundred. His philosophy was simple, “You don’t die, you just graduate. And if you don’t, you just come back here.”
In 1971, there was the SanO Surf Club Cook Book. Pop had a recipe for chop suey: “First you find some spaghetti… .” In the ’80s, he would surf with Lorrin Harrison who was a kid at 63.
In 1994, Ron Drummond, himself a legendary surfer, recounted meeting Pop in Los Angeles before he moved to Doheny. Once here, the Drummonds offered him a home-cooked meal once. Then Pop went to the Drummonds’ once a week for more than 30 years. “Pop” died in 1981 at the age of 99.
Carlos N. Olvera is Chair of the OC Historical Commission, and Councilman of Dana Point.