Trestles- In Progress



This photo was taken by Grant Ellis for SURFER MAGAZINE in 2011. It’s pretty much the view I had from the maintenance shed for the San Onofre Housing Area on Camp Pendleton. I worked there from the spring on 1975 to the early summer of 1976, painting interiors when marines and their families were transferred elsewhere. The actual view was from higher and a bit to the left. I could easily crop out the freeway as I was checking out the surf, almost an equally spectacular view from most of the housing area. You might as well delete most of the crowd. Okay. Now focus for a moment on that visible patch of beach. That was about where I’d park, extending my official half hour lunch to an hour and a half, depending (you know what it was depending on). I could have easily been busted by the Military Police or my Civil Service co-workers. Luckily, they were more interested in other activities.

MY ORIGINAL INTENT was to add to the TRESTLES STORY, Trestles from my particular vantage point, and, rather than have Part II, Part III, out of sequence, move the added-to piece up to the first spot with each additional update; but now that I have the photo… we’ll see.

“YOU CAN JUST GET GOING SO FAST…” I told my surfing buddy on the phone. Surely I was as excited in describing my latest surf story as I am when I do so now. Definitely. By this time, 1976, my friend Phil had just become, or was about to become, Doctor Phillip Colby Harper. Back in the conversation, with the tendency, still-with-me, to talk over others, I continued “…going so fast that you go up the wave, then freefall back to the bottom, like… um, it’s like dropping, sideways, with the lip… like, even, inside the lip; then back up again; over and… and… yeah, Trestles. Every day. Extended lunch. Yeah!”

THE FIRST TIME Phillip and I saw Trestles was in 1967. I guess, really, it was Church; we were riding with Bucky Davis, a few years older than us, way ahead of us in surfing, and the boyfriend of Phillip’s sister, Trish. He turned right instead of left past the creek, away from our destination of San Onofre, and up along the beach. He stopped the VW bus when we saw a Marine Corps Military Police jeep on the beach, perpendicular to the water, waiting patiently for the two or three surfers in the water to come in.

“Some day, maybe,” Bucky said. “Not today.” Phillip and I, following Bucky’s lead, flipped off the M.P.s (not so they would notice); the van made a three point turn and we headed around the cove.

THERE WAS a local TV show about that time, on channel 9, possibly titled “Surf’s Up.” It may have come from Santa Barbara rather than Los Angeles. From Fallbrook, North San Diego County, we got that city’s three stations, 6, 8, and 10, and a couple from LA, but the TV Guide listed this surfing program, and, the one time I enlisted my brothers to move the antenna on the roof, I got a blurred, fuzzy image of a segment that happened to feature the magical and forbidden waves of Trestles. “They just roll on and on,” the commentator said, “spinning, like a washing machine.”

ADRIFT- Chapter, I Don’t Know, Like, Maybe, Four

Stephen Davis is, evidently, headed back home from several months working in the Midwest.  His son, Emmett, with him, they apparently took the train from the Chicago area, down to Ohio, picked up a car from an Aunt, kind of a replacement for the car Steve gave to his Psychic in an earlier chapter of his life. I'm guessing it was valuable father/son bonding time, but it doesn't look like he scored epic San Onofre. That would be using the surfer logic, "It can't be good; no one's out." I'm looking forward to Stephen's return. We have a plan to hit an elusive spot on Cape Flattery when he returns.

Stephen Davis is, evidently, headed back home from several months working in the Midwest. His son, Emmett, with him, they apparently took the train from the Chicago area, down to Ohio, picked up a car from an Aunt, kind of a replacement for the car Steve gave to his Psychic in an earlier chapter of his life.
I’m guessing it was valuable father/son bonding time, but it doesn’t look like he scored epic San Onofre. That would be using the surfer logic, “It can’t be good; no one’s out.” I’m looking forward to Stephen’s return. We have a plan to    hit an elusive spot on Cape Flattery.                                                                                                                                                   Wait, maybe there’s one person out, and, way over to the left, that might be just the edge of someone. This is a different angle of the whole San Onofre/Church/Trestles area than I saw, back when we’d trek there from Fallbrook. This is quite a ways south of the power plant in the area where, back in the pre-I-5, Slaughter Alley days, cops and/or Marines would often be seen escorting surfers off this same beach; possibly, if the surfers were lucky, just back to their vehicles parked off Surf Route 101- possibly minus surfboards. If they were even luckier, the surfers may have scored some epic Camp Pendleton waves.



















San Onofre Tales & Phillip Harper and the Sailfish

San Onofre is surfing history.

Particularly for the early surfers who parked on the beach, camped out there, built a few palapas, rode the rollers. It seems, to those of us reading about it, checking a few photos, a friendly sort of place frequented by people who saw themselves as rebellious and wild, but, by today’s standards, quaintly so. 

Located (I know you know this) near the northwest point of the massive Camp Pendleton…wait. I should explain, just to be clear, that Camp Pendleton is roughly a triangle, with Oceanside at the lower point, San Clemente north, and, twenty miles inland (as the seagull flies) Fallbrook. That’s where I was raised, and, from my house, I always sort of believed, if I stood on the fence on the front edge of the property, and looked west, somewhere just over those coastal hills, that late afternoon glow was a reflection off the unseen water, just below our horizon, at San Onofre.

At some point the San Onofre Surf Club made a deal with the Marine Corps allowing club members access past the guard shack, down a winding little road along a riverbottom, and then past the railroad trestles (yeah, those Trestles), then near the Officers’ Club, the buildings a last remnant of a time when the entire area was part of a Spanish Land Grant. Nice location, in some trees in a usually sedate (wave-wise) cove right between Church and San Onofre.

Beach access was also given to Marines, and dependents. In Fallbrook, most of my friends’ dads, or moms, or both, worked on the base or were Marines. Kids of Marines came and went, on some three year cycle. My family was in Fallbrook because, once there, my mom didn’t want to move the increasingly large family elsewhere. Though my father remains a Marine (of the Corps, to the core), he went to work splicing telephone cables all over the base for the rest of his career.

Children of Civil Service workers didn’t have beach parking privileges, and any other surfers granted access on the base had to park in a lot* separated by those whispy trees particular to windy parts of California. I think, of all the times I went to San Onofre, mostly between 1966 and 1969, whoever I was with got to park on the beach.



There were fishing boats offshore, seagulls circling them. The waves were glassing-off, decent sized, and it wasn’t even crowded for a Saturday afternoon. Phillip had talked my parents (my mom, mostly) into allowing me to go with him. My mom loved Phillip from all the times he went to the beach with her driving the big wagon, he almost like another one of her seven kids. She probably bought Phillip’s ‘otherwise I’ll have to surf alone’ argument.

“Just don’t go 101,” she, no doubt said. “Slaughter Alley? No, Mrs. Dence, we’ll go across the base.”

Phillip had a vehicle, probably the VW truck that he and I tried to sleep in on the cliff above Swamis. There’s a house there now, and, somewhere after midnight, we were rousted by the cops.

Wow; I got immediately off subject.

Okay, so we were 16. “We have our parents’ permission,” Phillip said, me backing him up with a “Yeah; we do.” “Well, kids; you don’t have ours.” “So, what do we do, Officers?”

We actually drove halfway home before Phillip pulled over, asked himself and me, “What would Bucky do?”**

“He wouldn’t go back home,” each of us said. “No way.”

Still, by the time we got back to Swamis, others were in the water. Three, five… others.

But, at San Onofre, that Saturday afternoon, between sets, a fish leapt out of the water. It was huge, with a spear-like nose, and mid-leap, mid arc, seemed frozen in the air. Both Phillip and I saw it, looked at each other. Maybe one or both of us screamed. Phillip broke (first) toward the beach. He paddled so fast he almost outran a wave, but didn’t (of course), and it broke right on his back and he had to swim.

I’d like to think I gave him a lift.

When Phillip and I got to the shallows we looked back out at the glassy afternoon waves, sparkles on the incoming lines, the fishing boats motoring back and forth offshore.

San Onofre, we told each other, and others (critics always mentioned ‘Old Man’s’), was a place where you could make the waves as difficult as you wanted. You could ride like an Old Man, or you could take off behind a peak. Indeed, there was at least one guy out, “Probably on the Hobie team” Phillip said, who was back-dooring the peaks, ripping across the faces.

“Why’d we paddle in?” One or both of us asked. I’m guessing we laughed, paddled back out, warily scanning the water around us, at least for a while.

*This will show up in a story of “Bill Birt, ‘Skip-rope,’ and the Stolen Racks.”

**Bucky Davis was a surfer, probably my second surfing hero, and dated Phillip’s sister Trish. He’ll show up again in a (not yet written) San Onofre story, “’Cowabunga!’ and ‘Everybody Must Get Stoned.’”

In fact, telling that story is the reason I started Real Surfers.

We’ll get there.

Thanks for coming along.