In his debut book, Doheny Crazed, San Clemente resident Chuck Bassett gives readers a sense of what it was like to grow up surfing at Doheny State Beach in the 1960s.
Doheny State Beach served as a community magnet, drawing hundreds of young surfers during an era that Bassett views as the “golden age of surfing.”
“It was just a big social scene,” Bassett said. “Everybody that would surf Trestles during the day, or San Onofre, they always came to Doheny to see their friends.”
Iconic surfer Jean Pierre “The Fly” Van Swae added that it was a “happening place for families” to enjoy the barbecues and firepits along the shoreline.
The first time Bassett visited Doheny was in 1961, he said. At the time, beachgoers could walk 50 yards out in the water with the water only hitting waist-deep, Bassett said. Because the water was so shallow, Bassett could surf for five years before he ever learned to swim.
In the early ’60s, beachgoers could park right up against the sand, which is depicted in a photo Van Swae took that now graces the back of Doheny Crazed.
The book is a collection of short stories, memories of growing up on the water, but they’re all connected, Bassett said.
“I’ve always been long-winded and always telling stories; and my wife, early on, she would always go, ‘I’ve heard that before,’ or ‘Why do you keep telling old stories?’ ” Bassett recalled. “So, my kids grew up hearing funny stories, and the ones they enjoyed were the ones that were funny.”
Friends often asked Bassett why he wasn’t writing down his stories from a bygone era.
“One day, a neighbor lady who was a court reporter, she said, ‘What if I were to go get my steno machine and you tell me one of your surf stories from back when,’ ” Bassett said. “That’s where it started.”
Seeing his memories written down gave him the spark to polish the story and continue working on what would become Doheny Crazed.
“That started in 1976,” Bassett said. “But before that, I’d never written anything down. So, it’s a recollection of my time and places and friends and things we did, starting in about the late ’50s.”
“Bringing those recollections back in print and being able to tell these stories in a book form and connect it all together—it’s funny the things we did,” Bassett continued. “The things that we did, when you start writing about it and start making notes, then you’re remembering stuff that you’d forgotten.”
Bassett recalled making a fort on the San Juan Creek riverbed at 14 years old and camping there throughout the summer after being caught sleeping at Doheny.
“That was our place; we had cooking equipment, we had cots, and for some reason, nobody stole,” Bassett said.
Originally from the City of Orange, Bassett’s fort at San Juan Creek served as his base.
“This was home for me and my friends,” Bassett said. “We weren’t from around here, we didn’t belong here; we were inlanders.”
Bassett also touches on his family life in Doheny Crazed. Bassett’s mother also tandem surfed in the 1930s in the Newport Harbor break before the harbor was built, he said.
After the sudden loss of a young friend in 1965, Bassett said his life changed directions. The book shares stories from Bassett’s many careers: substitute teaching, serving as a firefighter and chief fire officer, and finally shaping surfboards with Mark Johnson of Hobie and friend Terry Martin.
Over the decades, Bassett has watched Doheny change as the city grows.
“Change is inevitable; everything changes,” Bassett said. “You can’t expect something to stay the same. Of course, we’ve got a beautiful harbor here, but you should have seen it before.”
Though Bassett no longer surfs because of arthritis and knee joint replacements, he still dreams of surfing.
Ultimately, Doheny Crazed shares “these stories of us growing up and evolving into a new way, of our interests and what we did, and our bond with surfing, and our place to bond was Doheny,” Bassett said.
Doheny Crazed was published in early March and is available for purchase at the Hobie Shops in Dana Point, San Clemente and Laguna Beach, as well as Stewart Surfboards in San Clemente.
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