The Sixties

At the annual beach meeting on August 27, 1961, it was proposed and so voted that the bylaws, as prepared by Andre Jahan, be changed to provide for a “mail vote” election of a Board of Directors. In turn, the elected Board would then elect the Club officers. In April of 1962, the newly elected Board of Directors elected Al Dowden to again serve as President of the Club. Of the many accomplishments of Al Dowden in the improvement in Club management and efficiency, it should be noted that he was the instrumental force in establishing the position of a hired professional Club Manager. By this time the Club had expanded to 800 paid members. It was evident to President Dowden that the part time management of SOSC’s affairs was no longer effective. In addition to the guards for the gate, the Club now employed John Huckins and E.J. Oshier as beach maintenance men, and a young but efficient corresponding secretary named Pat Hazard to handle Club commitments and activity.

In 1963 the newly elected Club President. Gene Hornbeck, hired Lex Stout as our first manager. Lex was active and effective in his job, but subsequently suffered a stroke and passed away after his first year. Jerry Gaffney, who remained as manager until 1970, replaced him as interim manager.

The mid-‘60s saw the beginnings of troubled years ahead for the Club, starting with the coming of the nuclear reactor at the south end of the beach. “It was an unknown entity then,” remembers John Waters. “Some people thought the warm water would be good, you wouldn’t have to wear wetsuits, you know? Others feared it would suck all the fish away.”

Although most Club members didn’t know what to make of it, one of the more outspoken and controversial members, Tom “Opai” Wert led many of the anti-nuke demonstrations against the plant. Some were supportive of his efforts, either because they feared the results of the Nuclear power or because they thought the plant would bring more crowds. But others felt it brought unnecessary media attention to San Onofre Beach, and contravened Club tradition – the “no publicity” policy that dates back to before the Club’s official inauguration.

An article, “The ski Bums: Revisited,” in the 1950 August issue of LIFE had blown the lid off the informal attitude Pendleton had about the surfers. It added to the already existing military embarrassment about the area, not to mention attracting those who weren’t already in the know about surfing at San Onofre. Since then, and even to this day, a number of Club members refuse to talk with any media about “Nofre.

In March 1965 Andre Jahan was elected President. Andre one of the earliest pioneers of the Club was an avid surfer and committed member. He was a popular and respected president, but his term was to be cut short. In September of 1966, he passed away doing what he loved most: surfing in front of his CyprusShores home.

Andre was replaced by Jack McManus who was vice-president at the time. In February of 1968, the sad news came that our founding father, Barney Wilkes, had died in Mexico. Barney had served six terms as President in our Club’s first ten years of formal organization and had served as consultant and adviser for many more years. Jack McManus passed away in July, 1969.

In the spring of 1969, exceptionally severe winter rains caused unprecedented damage to the road, parking areas, and the beach. Serious repair work was required, and the SOSC stepped up to the plate with financial investment to solve the problem. With the support of the Marine Corps, Club member Art Beard, a lifelong surfer and civil engineer, directed heavy equipment to clear sand and dirt, making the beach accessible again. Without the Club’s resources, that disaster could have marked the end of the San Onofre Surfing Club, as we know it today.

In April 1969, the Board of Directors elected the long time surfer and diplomat, Doug Craig, to lead the Club through the troubled years ahead. The controversial nuclear power plant had been built on our immediate south and had, for a time, threatened the public usage of the beach. President Nixon had established the Western White House just up the beach to the north. The obscure little fishing and surfing camp of the 1920’s now had unwanted national prominence. Everybody, surfer and non-surfer alike, had heard the name San Onofre. Headline-hungry politicians proclaimed they had uncovered an outrageous condition, whereby a select group of privileged individuals had isolated and gained control of a magnificent public beach area for their own private and exclusive use. To further complicate matters, the federal government was in the process of turning over certain portions of the old Rancho Santa Margarita, on a 50-year lease, to the State of California for development of a new state beach and park. This lease included all of the beach area traditionally leased and maintained by the San Onofre Surfing Club. It would be the culminating crisis of the Club’s history, putting it to the ultimate test.

Next: The Seventies

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