The Twenties

Who was the first to ride the surf at San Onofre? No one can say for certain. The late, great George “Peanuts” Larson of Laguna would have claimed the title for himself; but others contend that it was Orange, California’s Matt Brown and Lorrin “Whitey” Harrison who first stumbled onto ‘Nofre’s forgiving waves while heading south from Corona Del mar in search of surf.


In the early 1920’s, motorists began noticing a few cars driving up and down the old Coast Highway with surfboards tied on top or sticking out the rear window. Also, along about this time, Dutch Miller, the life-long Chief of Lifeguards in Long Beach observed Ted Sizemore making a “paddleboard” on the beach over on the west side. Since the advent of waterproof glue in the manufacture of plywood, anyone could now make his own board. Ted said he got the idea from Barney Wilkes who had gotten the idea from either Pete Peterson or Lorrin Harrison. Dutch borrowed the concept, and introduced the use of paddleboards for life saving in the surf along this part of the coast.

By the late 1920’s there were probably as many as 50 to 75 regular surfers in Southern California. These hearty nomads would explore every inlet, cove and point in search of new and better places to ride waves. One of the spots they discovered was an obscure and unknown beach about 60 miles south of Los Angeles near a railroad siding identified as “San Onofre”.

Over the years, there has been much debate about the origin of San Onofre’s name. Some believe it was a Native American word, bastardized by the Spanish to describe the area’s creek and surrounding valley. Others think that Spanish missionaries named the area after the sixth century Egyptian saint known as Onofreas. Whatever the case, the name appears as far back as the Capistrano Mission era, and in the Santa Margarita Land Grant documents from 1836. When the Santa Fe Railroad Company put in a coastal line from Los Angeles to Oceanside in the 1880’s, a train stop was erected at San Onofre to help local farmers get their crops to market. The area’s namesake, clearly scripted on the sign hanging from the train station wall at that time, has remained unchanged ever since. For a few years San Onofre would remain a secret, frequented only by handful of discoverers who would be counted later as the best watermen in California.

Next: The Thirties

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