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THE GREAT OUTDOORS / GETTING ACTIVE BY SEA

Breaks Remain 'Killer' For O.C. Surfers

June 26, 1996|ERIK HAMILTON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Butch Itakua loves to surf so much that sometimes he opens his video shop in Irvine late because the surf is up.

After 25 years of surfing Orange County beaches, Itakua knows the spots. But like a migratory bird that returns to the same nest year after year, the San Clemente resident usually finds himself at the same spot.

"I like the river jetty between Newport Beach and Huntington Beach at the mouth of the Santa Ana River," Itakua said. "I like the tube rides and the steepness of the waves."

Itakua, 40, a native Hawaiian who is a cousin of surfing legend Gerry Lopez, doesn't have any illusions about his place in the surfing order. He knows he's not a Kelly Slater. But that's the nice thing about surfing Orange County: you don't have to be a legend to have a good time.

"Orange County has always had a rich history of surfing spots," said Michael Marckx, marketing manager at Surfing magazine. "With its myriad of breaks to choose from, it offers good surf for the beginner and the expert, the longboarders and shortboarders. And while we don't have a Killer Dana any longer, there are plenty of surfing spots to pick from."

Before Dana Point became a harbor in 1970, Killer Dana was considered one of the best surfing spots in the world.

"That was before they physically changed the bottom of the ocean," Marckx said.

"It was one of those seminal moments in surfing history. And for the first time, the surfing community had to sit back and watch as one of their playgrounds was taken away from them."

But there are still plenty of good spots remaining. , Just don't expect to find anything new.

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"If you're expecting to find some pristine spot in the area, forget it," Marckx said. "There isn't any secret place waiting to be discovered."

Although the spots remain the same and the crowds grow larger, at least the county hasn't experienced the hard-core territorial battles that often arise in Los Angeles and Ventura counties.

"I don't know why, but Orange County doesn't seem to have the problems that Malibu or Oxnard seem to have," Marckx said.

That's not to say there haven't been been fistfights or squabbles over waves. But it appears that slicing tires or extreme acts of violence have been few on Orange County beaches.

So what are the best surfing spots in Orange County? For many, Trestles in San Onofre is the spot.

"When [Trestles] is on, it's a world-class wave," said Joel Tudor of San Diego, who is ranked first in the world in longboarding. "It can have the best shape and size of any wave in the world. . . . and it has a great left."

Before it was opened to surfers in 1973, Trestles, which is located next to the Camp Pendleton Marine base, was legally off-limits. But because the spot was so good, a few took their chances in the restricted waters.

Marckx said before Trestles was opened to the public, it wasn't uncommon for the Marines to throw rocks at surfers or shoot their weapons over their heads as a warning to get out of the water. Sometimes it was worse.

"There were actually two ways to get in [to Trestles]," recalled Itakua. "You could sneak in through this fence by a school north of Cotton's Point. Or you could take your chances and jump the fence by the freeway and run down there as fast as you could."

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Itakua recalled the time when he and a friend were caught by a Marine who confiscated their surfboards.

"That was back when Nixon was President," he said. "When we jumped the fence to get in, there was this Marine who held a gun on us and told us to get in this truck. We later had to appear in front of this Marine judge in Oceanside where he fined us each $20. That was the price you had to pay to get your surfboard back. It was kind of funny when this Marine guard led us back to this shack that had chicken wire all around it. Inside there were all these surfboards that the Marines had taken. He said, 'Get your board and get out.' It was a trip."

Trestles is divided into three parts: Lower, Middle and Upper. The Lower and Middle, which feature a hollow left and long rights, attract the biggest crowds.

You won't find much disagreement about Trestles. Such world-class surfers as Kelly Slater, Rob Machado, Shane Beschen, Jeff Booth, Lisa Andersen and Kim Mearig call it their favorite Orange County break.

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"I don't get down to Orange County often, but when I can, I love to surf Trestles," said Mearig, a former women's world champion who lives in Santa Barbara. "The right point break at Lower Trestles is real clean."

Beschen, who is currently ranked No. 1 in the world in pro surfing, has surfed some of the best surf on the globe. And he still ranks Trestles as one of the best.

"It's too bad they don't have the U.S. Open at Trestles," said Beschen. "It's definitely the best wave in California."

Famed Australian surfer Peter Townend, who was pro surfing's first world champion in 1976 and was instrumental in the early development of the Assn. of Surfing Professionals, says Trestles stands alone as the premier spot.

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