A two mile-plus stretch that includes the coastline around Trestles has been known for decades as a world-class surfing spot. But is it historic? Surfers and environmentalists say yes, and they want the area listed in the National Register of Historic Places. However, they’re facing considerable opposition from the Navy and the Orange County Board of Supervisors.
A state panel will decide on the nomination next week.
Both Trestles – with big surf the pros love – and San Onofre – with soft rolling waves better for beginners – were immortalized by the Beach Boys in the ‘60s.
It’s called “Trestles” because before the railroad put up a concrete bridge here, there used to be a wooden trestle behind the beach.
The beaches lie just a few miles south of the hustle and bustle of Orange County. But with the dirt roads, surf shacks, and general lack of any development - it can feel like you’re in Waikiki.
Surfing's "Ground Zero"
Surfers from Santa Cruz to San Diego starting going there in 1930’s, for “surfin’ safaris” filled with “Hawaiian guitar, Tahitian dancing, and no small amount of boozing,” according to one account.
"We’re basically at Ground Zero for surfing history in California,” said Mark Rauscher, Coastal Preservation Manager for the Surfrider Foundation, the environmental group leading the effort to protect this area.
He says Trestles would be the first surf spot in the country on the Historic Register, and for good reason.
“When you talk to anyone from Southern California this is the place that they know that’s historically important to surfing and the surfing culture that we’ve all grown up around,” said Rauscher.
"Less historical to the surf culture"
Orange County supervisor John Moorlach disagrees.
“I’m not a surfing historian, but I’m not so sure that’s historically accurate,” said Moorlach.
He may not be a surfing historian, but he does describe himself as a student of California Historical Landmarks. On his blog, Moorlach notes he’s visited every county in the state to photograph nearly every landmark.
He doesn’t think Trestles deserves to be included.
“I think when we set aside something for historic import that we do it with sincerity and some perspective with all other related spots,” said Moorlach.
In an October Legislative Bulletin, the supervisors agreed that Trestles is popular. But they also noted that it “has no more significance and is probably less historical to the surf culture” than Huntington Beach, Corona del Mar or Malibu.
They also wrote that an historic designation could affect Marine Corps training. That’s because Trestles is on Camp Pendleton land that the Navy leases to the state.
The biggest objection arises from a project most people thought died years ago: linking the 241 toll road with the 5 Freeway right behind Trestles.
“I see that there’s maybe an ulterior motive,” said Moorlach. “It might be a cute way to try to set some land aside that’s preserved which would not allow for construction. And that’s got those of us concerned about transportation in the county concerned.”
Moorlach says the toll road extension would ease up traffic and provide another way to get out of the county in case of an emergency.
He still hopes one day the toll road extension will happen – even though five years ago, the California Coastal Commission blocked it, and the US Commerce Department upheld that decision.
Surfing and anthropology
Both agencies heard testimony from State Historic Preservation Officer Wayne Donaldson.
“It’s one of these things you work on it so long you begin to wonder what you’re actually doing,” said Donaldson, who retired this Fall, but he wants to see through the process he started five years ago to list Trestles as a historic site.
“It spawned the tradition that we now know worldwide of the California style, the surfing, the talk, the early movies, the early songs.”
Donaldson compares the founders of surfing at Trestles to any other cultural group anthropologists would study – like the Plains Indians.
He says the area more than meets the criteria to be considered historic, and he’s received support from all over.
“We’ve now gotten over 1200 letters from countries worldwide and from every state in the union, people that have visited and had contests and people that have had their kids grow up there – some in their fourth generation – and they just feel that this is so important,” said Donaldson.
Next Friday, the State Historical Resources Commission will decide whether approve the Trestles nomination.
A staff report has already recommended passage.
If the nomination proceeds, a final decision will be up to the national Keeper of the Register.