When Christopher Columbus invaded the Western Hemisphere, the natives were not pleased to greet him as previously reported. Was it Machiavelli or Winston Churchill… or Nazi war criminal Hermann Göring who said, “History is written by the victors?”
There is always “another side to the story.”
Captain Schlack was not happy when “surf riders” invaded his neighborhood, but who used his cliff for access to the beach long before his castle was built upon the hill?
“To understand surfing in the early sixties, you have to understand the history,” rebuts surfing legend Floyd Smith.
Smith, along with his Mission Bay High School friend and track teammate, Larry Gordon, began to commercially produce surfboards in Floyd’s garage in the late 1950s. Together, they created the iconic Gordon & Smith brand.
“During the thirties, P.B. Point was the main surfing spot in San Diego, even more so than Windansea. During the war, it became a military base called Gunnery Point. It was abandoned from ’45 until 1954-55. Surfers used it a lot during the winter swells,” Floyd said.
Anti-Aircraft Training Center, Pacific Beach was built in 1942. It was used by both the Navy and Army during World War II as a training site for anti-aircraft and surface warfare on a gunnery range that extended into the Pacific Ocean. The area was not well developed at the time, but the sounds carried into Pacific Beach and La Jolla.
“They leveled the massive concrete gun emplacements and built nice ocean front homes on the cliff that sold for $25,000. Less than a mile away, homes in P.B. were selling for $10,000. As soon as the people moved in, that’s when the trouble began. Surfers would arrive at 5:00 a.m. with their radios blaring and loud mouths yelling, ‘Hey, what’s the problem?'” Smith said.
“They notified us that P.B. Point was in La Jolla and they were not going to tolerate the noise and rowdiness.”
(Longtime Clairemont residents recognize the concept of “Creeping La Jolla” with our own phenomena of “Creeping Bay Park.” Real estate values increase when prestigious neighborhood boundaries are arbitrarily moved. Some even claim that Pacific Beach is part of West Clairemont.)
Floyd continued, “The city tried to work out a compromise, but there was only one access… a trail that had been used for years to get to the beach and it was cut off. The solution was to ban surfing, but us surfers yelled and screamed and raised hell. A city council meeting was set and it was packed to the rafters with surfers from everywhere in Southern California.”
“The council decided to give us one court in Mission Beach with no parking and no real access.”
Side streets in Mission Beach are called courts. So the city was willing to allow the surfers to use what amounted to a small block on the beach front. “Well, we went ballistic,” said Smith.
“Thirty years later, police chief Ray Hobbler told me that it was the most riotous meeting the city council ever had. The mayor adjourned the meeting under duress. Six months later, they reconvened again under great duress and with great attendance.”
“There had been a private meeting with the top twenty surfers and surfing leaders. Don Vynne was the aquatic director for the City of San Diego, but nobody recognized him because he was wearing a suit and tie. He had been the city’s head life guard for the previous 20 years.”
“He quickly got our attention when he took control of the meeting. His first words were, ‘Hey, you little a**holes.’ He was 6-3 or 6-4 and probably 40-45 years old. We were in our young 20s.”
“Under Vynne’s leadership, the city would buy Tourmaline Canyon and allow multi-story, high density apartments and condos off to the south side. All the over-packed attendees at city hall yelled, ‘stroke,’ and that was it.”
“We dropped all objections and now San Diego is one of the world’s surfing capitals. Don Vynne was a hero to Larry and me.”
*** *** *** *** *** *** *** *** *** *** *** *** *** *** *** *** As surfing continued to evolve, the Surf Punks captured escalating tensions between the surfers themselves with their pounding 1980 hit, “My Beach.” The song’s primal lyrics say it all: “My beach, my chicks, my waves, go home!”
Two decades earlier, Captain Schlack’s version could have been, “My beach, my street, my sidewalk, go home!”
The war is over and history gets forgotten. The city maintains the busy concrete access path to the beach at Linda Way. Everything is cool. Surfing is mainstream.
In 2018, Governor Jerry Brown and the state legislature passed a law to make surfing the official state sport of California.
Steve O’Connell opened the popular Clairemont Surf Shop in 1976 and noted, “Some of San Diego’s best surfers came out of Clairemont: Tony Staples, Daryl Rustin and, of course, Skip Frye.”
In the 1950s, inexperienced surfers were called “kooks.” Surfer talk developed into a new language. O’Connell confirmed that young surfers later became known as “gremmies.” That term morphed into “grommets” which was shortened to “groms” and “grommies.”
Sorry, Captain Schlack, but you had it wrong, sir.
Instead of the younger generation turning into “commies,” they became “grommies.”
To read all the Squaremont columns, visit:
“Floyd checks a resin stringer (foreground), while Larry works on a board: Photo: Gordon & Smith, Inc. Archives” (caption and photo from page 14, Gordon & Smith: One Long Ride)
“Floyd and Larry in front of their new sign at 763 Turquoise Street. Photo: Gordon & Smith, Inc. Archives” (caption and photo from page 15, Gordon & Smith: One Long Ride)
On Linda Way path leading to the beach beside Captain Schlack’s residence with Pacific Beach in the background, Nick Brockman (Clairemont High School, Class of 2000) holds a 1961 picture of a young surfers protest march in downtown San Diego. (photo by Bill Swank)
The boundaries of Anti-Aircraft Training Center, Pacific Beach were Midway Street (north), La Jolla Boulevard and Chelsea Street (east), Sea Ridge Drive (south) and Calumet Avenue (west). (map by SAIC)