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It’s great to have our surf spots back

By Jake Howard

How’s everybody doing out there? Have you all had a chance to get back in the water, get some waves and rinse the funk off?

And how about that run of swell we’ve had the past few days? With our local spots from Trestles to Salt Creek open again and lighting up, it feels good to have the motion of the ocean back in our lives.

Taking a deep breath this week, I wanted to take a step back and just recognize that one way or another, everything is going to be all right. Through my work at the Surfing Heritage and Culture Center, the past few days I’ve been drilling deeper into our local surf history.

In the words of Johnny Cash, “It’s important to know where you’ve been so you can figure out where you’re going.”

With Trestles having been closed the past few weeks, I’ve been thinking about a conversation I had with Phil Edwards last year.

One of surfing’s great stylists, Phil Edwards was among a hardcore crew of local San Clemente and Dana Point surfers who changed the sport forever. Photo: Courtesy of Bev Morgan

“Miki [Dora] and I spent one summer together at San Onofre, and we’d look up at the point and ask these old guys what it was like up there,” Edwards said as he reminisced.

“ ‘Oh, well, we went back up there in ’38, and Peanuts Larson got this big wave . . . blah, blah, blah,’ they’d say. Anyway, Miki was 16, and I was 13. He had a car, so we drove the car up there and walked through the railroad tracks and around the swamp, and that’s how we started surfing The Trestle,” Edwards said. “And we didn’t tell anybody for a while. So, we had it all to ourselves for a while; it was kind of neat. I graduated high school in ’56, so it would have been before that.”

The Trestle. Hopefully, everyone has a deeper appreciation for it now after having it taken away. In a conversation over the weekend with one of the locals who helped construct the surf shack at Cotton’s Point, the stoke level was high.

“I’m so happy to be down here again. It’s just such a special place,” he said, throwing out the last bits of his sandwich to the seagulls.

During the grips of the lockdown, I spent a little bit of time surfing out at Poche. The relatively forgotten Capo Beach spot was dubbed “the new San Onofre” by a friend, as people packed the lineup.

Bobbing around in the rust-colored, red tide water, I positioned myself in front of Wayne Schaffer and Walter Hoffman’s houses. Now 91 years old, Wayne was the first surfer to buy a plot on Beach Road, paying a paltry $5,500 for it in 1953. Edwards and Gordon “Grubby” Clark soon rented a room from Schaffer.

“One day, I was down hanging out at Trestles with a few guys,” Schaffer said in a recent conversation. “Phil was down there. I was introduced to this rather tall guy; you couldn’t forget his name: Grubby. We got acquainted on the beach. He seemed like a pretty fun guy. He was down at Hobie’s a lot glassing boards. He had this yellow truck with a camper on the back that he built. He’d sleep in it. He was like a homeless person. As I got to know him, one day he said, ‘Can I park down at your lot and sleep?’ ”

“Finally, I said, ‘If you want, I’ll rent you a room.’ He jumped at it, so he moved in here. Later on, in came Phil. He was living in Oceanside and doing a lot of surfing up here and hanging out, and he worked at Hobie’s. So now there were three of us here, and it was a great time period of us surfing and diving and fishing and just being surfers.”

The “Poche Surf Club,” as it would come to be known, essentially started the surf industry. Edwards was the most popular surfer of his era. Clark’s foam blank business created an empire. Walter and Flippy Hoffman’s fabric business supplied the textiles for pretty much every surf brand. Then there was Bruce Brown and his little film called The Endless Summer. And Hobie Alter; well, Hobie’s Hobie.

I guess the point of all this reminiscing is that people have been soaking in the saltwater around here for a long, long time. They’ve ridden waves through high times and low times. Countless lives have been touched, even saved, by places like The Trestle and Doheny.

So, as we all endeavor to move forward in these uncertain days, sometimes the best thing you can do is just go surfing.

Jake Howard is local surfer and freelance writer who lives in San Clemente. A former editor at Surfer Magazine, The Surfer’s Journal and ESPN, today he writes for a number of publications, including the San Clemente Times, Dana Point Times, Surfline and the World Surf League. He also works with philanthropic organizations such as the Surfing Heritage and Culture Center and the Positive Vibe Warriors Foundation.

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