A section of the road collapsed at Surf Beach earlier this month, limiting access for local surfers. Photo: Jake Howard

By Jake Howard

If all this stormy weather lately has you dreaming of hot summer days on the sand at San Onofre, you are certainly not alone. The only problem is that it’s gotten a whole lot harder to get down to Surf Beach.

Seems like every week this winter South Orange County has been hit by a rainstorm. To date, San Clemente’s rainfall total for the year sits at 8.6 inches. Considering that on January 17, 1895, a staggering six inches of rain fell in 24 hours in town, it hasn’t been the wettest winter in history, but after a half decade of drought, it sure seems excessive. All of the local river mouths have broken through. San Juan Creek at Doheny, the San Mateo Creek at Upper Trestles and the arroyo at Church are all currently running into the ocean—great for sand replenishment, but brutal for water quality. Twenty-four hours after the last rainfall, OCBeachInfo.com reports that water quality tests for every beach from Salt Creek south to San Onofre was exceeding state health standards. The Orange County Department of Health and the Surfrider Foundation both recommend avoiding contact with the ocean for 72 hours after rains if an area is susceptible to urban runoff.

Sinus infections and flesh-eating bacteria aside, all these storms have seriously hindered surfers’ ability to hit the beach at San Onofre. The issues began last year after a series of large west swells eroded the beach, eating away at the road into Surf Beach. With big winter high tides and a recent increase in swell activity, the issue has come to a head. At the beginning of January, a section of the road collapsed into the ocean, forcing the closure of the road.

“As many of us winter surfers have found out, the Surf Beach road has had some rain erosion and is temporarily closed until repairs can be made. The San Onofre Surfing Club is working with the state to get this done as soon as possible,” reads a statement by the club on January 10.

They go on to explain “that this is not unprecedented as the same area completely washed out in 1969 and was entirely repaired by the Club.”

The upper lot into the park has remained open throughout the storms, but with only 22 parking spaces, the lot obviously fills up pretty quickly. And be warned, State Park officials have been ticketing cars parked illegally. The classic San O trick of creating your own spot is ill-advised.

“It’s important for people to remember that closing the lot is something that happens regularly when it’s rainy and muddy. We haven’t really had heavy rains like this since 2009, so some people may have forgotten,” said Rich Haydon, the south division State Parks Superintendent.

“After the road was initially closed, we were able to briefly open it to one-way traffic before the next storm hit,” continued Haydon.

On January 18, the road was temporarily opened to one-way traffic with barriers protecting cars from the cliff’s edge. But after the latest deluge, the road was once again closed. Currently, at its most narrow it’s an estimated 15 feet wide with a drop of 10-plus feet into the ocean.

Before anything can be done, the ground needs to dry out. The current weather forecast is looking at a zero percent chance of rain for the next 10 days, which should make everyone in the area happy. Meanwhile, Hayden says that State Parks representatives have already submitted an application to the California Coastal Commission for an emergency coastal development permit. They are also working with the Marine Corps since the land is leased from the Marines and they will play a role in the final outcome. The search for a contractor to implement a more permanent, long-term fix is underway, and they’re currently collecting bids.

The solution could involve placing large boulders at the foot of the road to stabilize the area and provide protection from the ocean while the damaged area is repaired and re-enforced. Ultimately, there’s no easy way to restore the road into Surf Beach, but as the San Onofre Surfing Club noted, this has happened before. Sooner rather than later, a plan will be put into place and we’ll be posting up at Old Man’s in no time.

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