Volume 8, Issue 24  |  March 24, 2023Subscribe

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You Must Remember This: Taking a surfin’ safari


Back in the ‘50s and early ‘60s, things along the coast were pretty basic compared to today. I remember a lot of this from my surfing ventures. Before things like Surfline came along, you got in your car and you drove around looking for surf, tootling along PCH. Going south from here, we never looked at Laguna much. Maybe the locals didn’t like us? Our usual destinations were Salt Creek, Doheny and Trestles – but not San Onofre. That was for old guys (hence the nickname Old Man’s). Of those, the only really easy access was Doheny which had a parking lot – a huge plus and a rare one. There was no parking lot at Salt Creek, nor were there restrooms, grass, barbecues, picnic tables, all listed as current amenities on the county website. The amenities then consisted of a path unpaved to the beach. There weren’t even any trash cans. As for Trestles, not only were there no amenities, after hiking along a dirt path through thick brush to get there, you had to watch out for the U.S. Marines who would kick you out if they found you and, if you were particularly unlucky, confiscate your board. As for the drive itself, there was a lot of open space in between surf sites, and where there was development it was mostly beach cottages – nothing very posh. Coastal cities seemed to be small in size, population and ambition.

Continuing south, if you knew somebody who lived there, you could surf Poche. In those days, that’s what we called the area that is now apparently referred to as Beach Road. I was fortunate because I surfed regularly with Ted Newland, former Harbor High instructor and later UCI water polo coach. Ted’s brother-in-law, Walt Hoffman, lived there. Walt, for anyone into surfing, needs no intro, but to others he was one of the early big wave surfers. He and his brother owned Hoffman California Fabrics that provided cloth and inspiration to the developing surf wear industry. He was also the father of Joyce Hoffman, who like her father, is in the Surfing Hall of Fame. At the time, she was barely into her teens, but already killing it. While grand and getting grander today, the houses on Poche at the time were pretty typical of most beach housing in those days – pretty plain wrap with narrow lots, a lot of one-story places, reasonably affordable.

As for going north, I didn’t, not until I went to UCLA. There, I had a couple of friends who lived on the beach at Topanga. In those days, Topanga was very similar to the enclave at Crystal Cove – a bunch of houses that met no apparent building standards and could be cheaply rented – ideal for students and various individuals shunning the middle class. Unlike Crystal Cove, it didn’t have an advocate like Laura Davick and the cottages were eventually removed to provide more beach. Topanga is a nice point break, and that’s where we usually surfed, but occasionally we’d head up the coast and looking back, that area has transformed as much as our own. The whole of Malibu, now one horrendously expensive palace after another, had many structures that were only slightly improved versions of Topanga. There were vacant lots. You can get a glimpse of this more downscale version in the movie Big Wednesday.

Driving through Oxnard was to drive through even more sparsely populated beach areas like Hollywood by the Sea, and then nothing but farmland – no big discount warehouses, very little commerce at all. If we got as far as Rincon, again the houses were pretty rustic – places where it didn’t take a lot of money to live. As a result, like most beach areas it had its share of quirky, offbeat houses often inhabited by quirky, offbeat characters.

Today, living at the beach has taken on a completely different meaning.   The lots don’t get any bigger, but the houses and prices certainly do. There are few noticeable breaks between towns, certainly not acres of open space. Quirky, offbeat houses? Gone, and while there may still be a few quirky, offbeat characters around, they’re very rich quirky, offbeat characters, and at that financial level they’re probably termed singular instead.   


Nancy Gardner, former Mayor of Newport Beach, long-time resident and daughter of Judge Robert Gardner, is a regular contributor to Stu News Newport.

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