Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Tales from the Canyon

Tales from the Canyon

by Bruce Jones

I am one of four brothers (no sisters) brought up in the ‘50’s by great parents, very frugal, as my Dad’s family was running a lumber business and they had been through the Great Depression. The frugality paid off for us kids – the cheapest way to take a vacation was to go camping, and camp we did!
Lots of coastal camping, California style, north of LA mostly. Heading south past Santa Barbara on Hwy 101, as we were passing Rincon, I yelled to my Dad – Stop!!! There were about 10 people out, probably 1959, nice head high glassy day, I had seen people surfing at Huntington Beach (we used to rent “Mats” there on the south side of the pier for body boarding), but it was nothing like Rincon. I was enthralled by what I saw.
Soon after that we were camping at Pismo Beach, my older brother Rod didn’t come, my Dad called him from a pay phone to see what he was up to – he had gone surfing for his first time, without me!
I couldn’t believe it, my Dad put me on a Greyhound bus in San Luis Obispo, I got to LA, made my way home and put out the word that I wanted to go surfing, in no time I got a call – “if you have gas money, I have a board you can borrow!”
The guy who drove, Jon Jordane (became a famous sailboat
racer and navigator), took me to San Clemente, we parked by a bridge under construction ( the then new Interstate 5 bridge over San Mateo Creek), and walked down the path along the creek, paddled through a marsh and ended up at Upper Trestles. It was a beautiful summer morning in 1960, glassy, shoulder high, lots of kelp, and crowded (“Gidget” had just hit the big screen), I was overtaken by the grandeur of the whole experience. In my cut off Levies, I paddled out and just tried to stay out of everyone’s way, ended up not catching any waves and after a couple of hours paddled in.
That afternoon we went to Doheny and I stood up and rode my first wave. Within a few weeks my Brother and I talked my Mother into
getting a campsite at Dohney for two weeks, she dropped us off with all our camping equipment, gave us a dollar a day for food (other than the canned food we brought) and said she’d be back the next weekend to check on us.
I couldn’t believe it, we were on our own, CAMPING, and at a
SURFSPOT! I was 15, my brother was 16, no rules other than the normal unspoken ones – keep your camp clean and stay out of trouble – it was all surf, eat and sleep! In 1960, the campground was in the area where the day use is now, and every campsite had a piped in, natural gas stove. There were surfers living in trailers on some of the sites, even one guy patching dings to make his way.
I had purchased the 9-2 Hobie that I had used on my first day at Trestles, and it turned out to be a great board, in no time I was catching and riding everything in sight. The original Hobie shop was just up the hill in Dana Point, and in the afternoons we would walk up the hill and check it out, this is when they were making them in the back of the retail shop. We would go to the back door and peer in at the workers and the blanks, just amazed at what they were doing.
My Mother checked on us the second weekend, gave us her blessing and said, “I’ll be back in a week to pick you up!”.

Chapter Two
Meanwhile, back at Doheny …………………………..
Eat, sleep, surf! That was our credo for another week to come, and we made good use of it. Towards the end of the week, we decided to have a party, you know, a “Summer’s Over” party, and somehow we got a hold of a couple six packs of “Country Club” Malt Liquor. Being my first experience at drinking I had no idea of what I was in for, by the second can I was knocked for a loop, passed out in the tent, woke up Sunday Morning sick as a dog and who shows up but my Mother to pick us up! Actually she was right on schedule, but being a very well rounded women of good humor, she packed us up, got us in the car and drove us home. I slept the whole way home and was put on restriction the whole of the next week, which was not a big deal, my Parents just chocked it up to growing up. Now that I had become “enlightened” from my summer surf camping experience, living in Huntington Park was pretty restrictive anyway, so it really didn’t matter.
So another school year started, I was a Junior at 16, and surfing and getting to the surf turned into a THE Prime Time Effort, and the closest spot was just down the newly built Long Beach Freeway to Seal River, “Ray Bay”, the end of the San Gabriel River.
Like Doheny, it was a right break and slow, so I was right at home, and the water was warm! I was able to drive on my own and would pick up anyone willing to go and pay gas money, even from neighboring high schools, as there weren’t to many surfer around at that time. As things go, after surfing one day, I put my 9-2 Hobie behind the car we came in that day, to get my towel and dry off. My friend who was driving backed out of the parking spot at River and ran my board over and broke it in half! Boy was I pissed! I made him fix it for free but it never rode the same! I picked up a used 9-2 Jacobs and continued on.
By May, I and my group of friends were planning a re-do at Doheny, on a bigger scale, for the coming summer, I mean, the whole summer! My parents were a little annoyed at this, saying I had to work along with playing, and at the family lumber yard if nothing else. The summer started out that way – I would get up early in the morning, drive to Malibu (another slow right) and surf it for an hour and be to work by 8am, a lot of driving (but gas was 25 cents a gallon so no big deal).
In the mean time, a couple guys from our “Surf Group” had “gone ahead” without me, acquired a small house in Capistrano Beach and were doing the dream! I was pulling weeds in one of the vacant lots at the lumber yard, it was 95 degrees, the lot was full of beer cans and whiskey bottles in paper bags, and it was early June. That night I told my parents that I was moving in with my friends in Capo Beach and to my surprise they said OK, as long as I got a job.
So I packed up my ’56 Chevy and I was off the next morning and immediately got a job washing dishes at the Colony Kitchen restaurant in San Juan Capistrano. Talk about hard work! On my second day the guy for the next shift didn’t show up and I had to work his shift, I lasted about a week there. One of our “group” had somehow got a job at Clark Foam, which was in Laguna Canyon at that time, near where the “Sawdust Festival” is now. I was right on it, was hired the next day and was making stringers and driving the truck for deliveries and whatever was needed.
So, back to the important part –surf! Upper Trestles was the first place I surfed, and then Lower Trestles became the spot. So the routine became, get up at the crack, surf Lowers, work at Clark Foam usually until 4pm and then head for Doheny for the evening glass off. And Lowers was no easy place to surf at the time, still an off-limits Marine base, they were after us all the time and this was before leashes. We would get in any way we could, usually from the north side walking from as far as San Clemente State Park, through the “school”, Cottons, anyway it took. We were young and tough, it was all fun. Loose you board at Lowers and a Marine would usually be there to grab it.
Somehow during summer we lost the house in Capo Beach, and had to find other lodging. There was a motel in San Clemente, on PCH, just past Avenida Pico as you head south up the hill, aptly named the “San Clemente Motel”, really a pile, left over from the 1920’s I’m sure. We were able to rent one room by the week for 6 guys – all we needed was a place to sleep and hang our clothes, otherwise we were never there. Maybe it’s still there but I doubt it. The place was run by an old, skinny alcoholic – he would stick his head out his door, collect our money and complain, we would just laugh and go about our business.
Just down the street was a liquor store, we did the typical underage thing, hang out and ask people to take our money and buy us a six pack, some would and some wouldn’t, we’d throw a party in the motel room, light farts, and wonder who was going to wash the towels, which would get so dirty they would stink of mildew and stand up on their own.
The magic of it all came from surfing Lowers, when we could get it with only a few people out and no Marines, glassy mornings, low tide coming up, the place was just magic. Because there were no buildings around, and a flowing creek just up the beach, it was the total back-to-nature experience. Sometimes a gate would be left unlocked and we would drive in and stash the car in the trees, reeds and bushes in the area just behind the beach at lowers, I mean, we would camouflage it so well that no one could find it, there were trails through the bushes all over the place.
Lowers was another right point, this one created by San Mateo Creek, as it’s outlet meandered up and down the beach between Cottons and Lowers. The lineup was unpredictable, but once figured out it provided excellent rides and it gained in it’s reputation. There was lots of driftwood and lots of rocks – cobblestones (and larger) that had washed down the creek, usually slimy and had their share of urchins – so the rock dance was not pleasant. One afternoon a bunch of us got together and created a path to the lineup by clearing rocks in a straight line out through the break, the path later filled with sand and made it much easier. This was all in the summer of 1961, an uncomplicated and easy time in our lives, but this would all change as Camp Pendleton and the country ramped up for the war in Southeast Asia.

lower trestles 1967 looking south - marines in their jeep photo:Leo Hetzel

to be continued.................


  1. So that's where you came from,lets hear more.

  2. You've really can paint a great picture. Please... More!

  3. Bruce - We shared the same waves, starting out at the "pee hole" aka "ray bay" and blasting down to doheny when we had the gas money to make the trip, camping at Doheny! I lived in Anaheim and did the same as you from '58 onward. Moved to the Newport River Jetties locale in '61. Had a "dependent's card" to get into Pendleton and drive into "Church." What a time it was! Keep sharing your stories bud, the youngsters need to hear them, and the oldsters like ourselves need reminders of how bitchen it really was! Thanks for your dedication, great craftsmanship and your generosity in memorializing the "good old days" for us all~!! John Mabry

  4. This is a great story Bruce!

    Something I wish I could have done before I attended college, but it's never too late to live the surf dream.

    Started it with my Latin American surf trip and hope to continue to find more waves around the world.

    Cheers to your great surf story!

  5. What a shame that this story will not be continued. My neighbor Steve Rogers has told me similar stories to going down to lowers and getting caught by the guards. What an amazing adventure and awesome time to be a free spirit in California. It would be awesome if this story could be finished from the point of view of all the other surfers still around who experienced it. Much Love Bruce! Ride on...

  6. Trestles Yes, hiding from the Marines, getting got by the CHP stopping to clip down between the N and S bound. The last place I surfed before Viet Nam. Doheny was a great place to start out and move north to the bone yard and pig rock. I was never real good but Doheny was a great place to progress. Killer Dana before the harbor. When it was big, Killer no shit!
    Miss those days.
    To Bruce and et al, Follow the Sun

  7. This is a great blog, usually I don't post comments on blogs, but I would like to say that this post really forced me to do so!

    Mini Malibu Surfboard & Wood Surfboard