The Forties

Surf Waves, Radio Waves, Shock Waves

It was a beautiful, clear morning at San Onofre on December 7th, 1941. The sun was hot, the crowds were thin, and the surf was running about five feet. Bud “Augie” Anderson had been down in the area for a few days. Saturday night he and other surfers had gone to the movies at the old Miramar Theater, a few miles north in sleepy San Clemente.

“Larry Roth came paddling out” Augie remembers, “and shouted, ‘Hey, the Japs just bombed Pearl harbor!’ We didn’t believe him, so we went in and turned on our car radios – which is when we heard President Roosevelt declare war against Japan.”

“I joined the Navy in June of ’42, Augie continued, “Another San ‘O regular, Stanford King and I were stationed at Los Alamitos Navel Air Station. I surfed the whole summer of 1942 with my buddies at San Onofre. That winter I shipped out. I stayed in the Navy through World War II and the Korean Conflict.

“I didn’t surf much during those years.”

Neither did many others. In early 1943, the Santa Margarita Ranch property fell victim to eminent Domain by the U.S. Department of Interior, and was subsequently leased to the Marine corps becoming a training base named Camp Pendleton. Ulrich lost his camp, but he was able to hang onto his petrol station and café across the street. At the same time, the new USMC commanding officers lowered the boom on San Onofre and shut down all public access to its beach. Some years later, the old camping area and train station was turned into the Enlisted Men’s recreational area.

San Onofre was nearly empty during the War years; surfers, like everyone else, went into military service in the far corners of the Pacific or European Theaters. Civilians weren’t legally permitted to surf on what had become a strategic military base, but local guys who weren’t enlisted still found ways to sneak in. Frequently they could get past the Military Police, but eventually daily beach sweeps would force their removal. With gas rationing and surfboard materials in scarce supply, the short, sweet surfing life of San Onofre almost ceased to be.

In the post-War 1940’s, surfing began to come to life again at San Onofre. The Beach was still closed, but Camp Pendleton’s various commanding Officers allowed a sort of loose arrangement, essentially turning a blind eye to the surfers, most of who were WWII vets. That same quirky bunch of characters from the late Thirties began returning to ‘Nofre, this time, though, with a new social flavoring. Most of them had gotten married and the Baby Boom years were on. Notable among the service men returning to civilian life (and their first love of surfing) was Dr. A.H. “Barney” Wilkes. After his discharge from the Army, Barney opened his dental practice in San Clemente and spent every available moment on the beach and waves at San Onofre. As a successful and respected businessman, and one of San ’Os most frequent beach-goers, it was only natural that he would become a spokesman for the surfing group when communicating with the Marine corps.

The Marine Corps was not enforcing any “off-limits” restriction at the beach, and the various changing commands at Camp Pendleton usually considered it to be good public relations to permit public usage of the beach area for which they had only occasional use. The kids that grew up during the war and the men returning from the service wanted the very most from their available recreational time. And surfing was “big” with this particular segment of sportsman. As the surfing population increased, so did the interest and concern of the Marine corps. Each new succeeding General who took command at Camp Pendleton became more and more concerned about “all those civilians” having unregulated admittance to military property.

Civilian access to the beach had always been tenuous at best. Understandably, most of the surfers had a desire to formalize the arrangements with the military. Likewise, the Commanding General had an equally strong desire to achieve some order and control among the fringe element of unruly surfers whose behavior was beginning to become untenable: Vandalism and disregard for sanitation was such a serious problem it was difficult for the C.O. to ignore. To say the least, he wasn’t happy with what was taking place on his turf at San Onofre Beach.

Continuos brush fires and other incidents at San Onofre had gotten ugly, and Wilkes got wind that if Pendleton’s Commanding General did not see conditions improve immediately, he was going to lock the whole beach down indefinitely. To avoid this, Wilkes, along with Andre “Frenchy” Jahan, took action with a scheme to establish a surf club to regulate the flow of traffic, as well as take responsibility for keeping the place clean. It was a win-win situation: The General would be relieved of the thorn in his side and enjoy better PR for his base. And Barney, would save the beach for all of the longtime ‘Nofre regulars.

In 1950, Andre “Frenchy” Jahan, an old-time surfer of foresight, enlisted the aid of friends on the staff at Camp Pendleton in pursuing this goal. The resulting correspondence between Barney and the Commanding General produced a letter of permit granting the San Onofre Surfing Club access to the beach.

At this time the San Onofre surfing Club was not a formally organized Club. Barney would accept token dues at the beach, and keep your name on an “official” list of Club members. Organizational attempts had been made in the past few years but without a pressing need, nothing had come of it. Barney would simply convey the general concerns in his communications with the Marine Corps.

Next: The Fifties

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