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The Seventies

Like every crisis facing a community, strong leaders are always essential to the solution. With the looming likelihood of a State Parks take over, the Club was facing the potential loss of all it had created. Great leadership was needed for its very survival.

Some leaders are born, some become great through their efforts, and some have greatness thrust upon them. In the case of the San Onofre Surfing Club, it was lucky enough to get all three. In the spring of 1970, Sam Conroy relieved Jerry Gaffney as Club manager and pursued his duties with unprecedented vitality. An excellent skier and surfer, Sam assisted Club President Doug Craig and the Board of Directors. An ex-Marine officer and popular San Clemente High School teacher, he effectively handled the liaison work with both military and State personnel, in addition to the regular duty with Club members. Probably Sam’s most noteworthy quality has been his ability to take any small insignificant incident out of his past and turn it into the damnedest story you ever heard. But even Sam could not stop the inevitable march of national politics and military bureaucracy.

By 1971, a tentative lease had been prepared whereby the U.S. Navy would lease certain parcels of CampPendleton land to the State of California to be used as a State Park and Beach. This included the entire San Onofre surf beach. It was generally believed that President Nixon wanted a California State Park and Beach to be named after him.

On Saturday, August 31, 11:00 AM, Lease NF®13233 was signed into effect at the Western White House. President Nixon was present and all smiles at the signing. However, at no mention in the lease of the actual name of the park or beach. The lease took effect at midnight, August 31, 1971, for a period of 50 years, for a total consideration of $1 to be paid to the U.S. Government.

It was the end of an era for many Club members. Without the valuable benefit of restricted beach access, membership renewals dropped from 1,000 memberships at $50 annually, with 2,000 names on the waiting list, to less than 300 renewals at $5 that following year. There seemed little reason to pay dues if you could just stroll in for only $1 a day. Talk of disbanding the Club was even proposed, but President Doug Craig insisted it stay together, remain strong, and do what it could to work with the State to preserve the beach for future generations.

The State Parks Division announced immediate plans to pave and curb the entire dirt road and lot that had been untouched for almost 35 years. There was even talk of the state just shutting the lower beach lot altogether, making everyone park on the bluff above and walk down a flight of stairs. Fortunately, that never happened.

At the spring meeting in 1973 the question was raised as to whether or not the Club should disband. The question was overwhelmingly rejected by all present. Since the Club no longer had to carry the annual expenses of gate guards and maintenance crews, the annual membership dues were reduced by unanimous voice vote, and the paid services of corresponding secretary Pat Hazard and Club manager Sam Conroy were placed in an “as needed” status.

Foreseeing the previously unthinkable possibility that this venerable surfing Club could cease to be, Club President Doug Craig, the officers and Board of Directors (in concurrence with the general membership) authorized the funds to have a yearbook published. All Club members were encouraged to contribute photos and other memorabilia. Babs Fitzgerald spent the entire winter with layouts all over every piece of furniture in her home. Val Hying spent months of research, correspondence, and interviews with old timers such Ted Sizemore, Pete Peterson, Loren Harrison, Pop Proctor, Duke Kahanamoku and Dutch Miller. Published in 1974, the yearbook was mailed to all 1,000 members of record. Club members who had the foresight to hang on to their copies saw them become treasured collector’s item.

The Club was facing the biggest challenge in its history and members knew it. The loss of the Club’s lease forced it to reinvent itself and hope it would be strong enough to survive. “But what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” says Doug Craig, “You have to accept life’s changes.”

The Seventies was the decade where the radical cultural concepts of the Sixties shifted into the mainstream. Change was everywhere, and the SOSC made the biggest change in it life – from a club of privileged power to a community of protective pride.

The social life at the beach had its share of changes in the Seventies as well: Volleyball became a major activity in the lives of many of our surfers, with an annual tournament resulting in participation that would compare to our annual surfing contest. The marbles contest, the Bocci Ball contest, the table-folding contest, all were received with overwhelmingly appeal. The 1973 Club Olympic Games, with competition in horseshoes, darts, chug-a-lug, tug-o-war, etc. brought out the best of participation and competitive spirit in hundreds of Club members, young and old alike. The pie throwing contest, to raise a donation for the church in San Clemente, resulted in over $200.00 in contributions. The annual Costume Promenade produced an astonishing array of prize-winning costumes.

As the beach opened up to a more public place, the need for more formalized experiences, including surf schools, citizen advisory boards, and events.

In the mid 70’s, Dorian “Doc” Paskowitz opened his Surf School at ‘Nofre and began to teach visiting surfers from all around the globe about the physical, spiritual and scientific value of surfing and its surrounding lifestyle. Still a fixture at the beach, the entire family has at one time or another been involved with the School which has now introduced the wonders of wave riding to hundreds of surf stoked kids.

By 1978, California was experincing the sixth year of a drought that produced water shortages, incomparable vintages of wine and a record number of sunny days at the beach. It would also be a year of great south swells, remembered by some as one of the best.

Around 1979, the Beach Citizens Advisory Committee was formed, for the purpose of providing advice and assistance to the State arks System regarding the policies and requirements of the beach and its users. A 12 member panel (with 6 from the Club and 6 from the State)

It included former San Clemente mayor Donna Wilkerson, Benny Merrill, Sam Conroy, Les Williams, Tom Turner, Lynn Hicks Art Beard, and Ruth Yielding. Later the group would expand to include Steve Pezman, and Jack Stowe from the Parks Department, as well as many other guest committee members who gave perspective and expertise to the board.

It was (as Charles Dickens said) the best of times and the worst of times.

The fabric of the Surfing Club had been stretched to the breaking point, battered by national politics, burned by President Nixon, torn by desertion, and frayed by the winds of change. But thanks to the remarkable solidarity of the membership, the dedication of Club President Doug Craig, and the leadership of the Board, it had held together.

Next: The Eighties

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