It's been some time now, but Faye Campbell, organizer of Ventura's California Beach Party '96, used to be a Funicello-esque, "Beach Blanket Bingo" stereotypical surfer gal.
"It was the late '50s and early '60s. I had a '56 white convertible, lowered, with moon hub caps and dual pipes," said Campbell, special events coordinator for the city of Ventura.
"I grew up in Bakersfield, but it was every weekend to Laguna Beach, and all the girls would pile into the convertible."
Ventura is no Laguna Beach--for better or worse. Nonetheless, the annual beach party Friday and Saturday at Ventura Beachfront Promenade--with its long-board competition, surf rock music, volleyball contests, muscle men and classic car show--will look like a snapshot from Campbell's childhood.
"I remember the beautiful convertibles, the body builders, the surfing and the dancing. We used to dance in these little places alongside the beach, just swing dance all night long," she said. "This is the weekend life that I remember, so the California Beach Party was kind of designed for my own pleasure."
The inaugural beach party, held in 1984 as part of the "Festival of the American Spirit," was actually designed for the pleasure of international visitors. It coincided with the Los Angeles Summer Olympics, and festival officials wanted to give the tourists a taste of California's lifestyle.
"We were expecting many foreigners to attend, so we did a beach party at the mall near the Holiday Inn with the Beach Boys image," Campbell said. "We also had a cowboy and Indian theme at Mission Park, and at Plaza Park we had the arts and crafts fair. All three festivals were connected by a hayride."
It was a "best-laid-plans" kind of story.
The threat of overcrowded freeways and hotels during the Olympics kept people away from the festival, Campbell said. Official attendance was unavailable because no gate count was taken, but Campbell said a total of 10 foreign visitors were among the crowd.
Although the cowboy and Indian festival didn't quite catch on as an annual event, the beach party has grown steadily in popularity and scope, promoting both California beach life and San Buenaventura State Beach, in particular.
"Over the years it's just blossomed. It's a festival people of all ages can enjoy because of its '50s and '60s theme," Campbell said. "I think it's just the sense of a time of sweetness and innocence--the Gidget era, with boys and girls bouncing around on the beach. It was innocent, safe and carefree."
Like Campbell, others involved with this weekend's California Beach Party consider the sand and surf a way of life, if not life itself.
Jack Cantrell, a legendary Ventura surfer, will participate in the Beach Party's Longboard Surfing Championship. For him, describing the California beach lifestyle is a difficult task.
"I don't know what I can tell you; it's the only life I know," said the 67-year-old surfer. "I just like the ocean. I've lived in Ventura all my life, I've been going to the water off of California Street all my life. I used to bodysurf there in the 1940s.
"Ever since grammar school as a little kid, I'd go to the beach," Cantrell said. "My mother used to drop me off on Sanjon Road, go to work and pick me up after work."
Cantrell said he will attend the beach party almost exclusively for the surfing. In the process, he said, he will undoubtedly hook up with some old Ventura beach buddies who have long since left the area.
"A lot of people come down to the party that you don't see all the time. If you live in Ventura, you hardly see anybody you grew up with," he said. "People come down to the beach party to meet up."
The beach is also a necessity for Harry Brockwell, a caterer and chef who ran the food concession at the state beach from 1991 to 1995. Brockwell is heading the Wine and Seafood Pavilion, a new addition to the California Beach Party.
Brockwell has arranged for local restaurants, including Chart House and Spinnaker Seafood Broiler, and area wineries such as Leeward and Daume to bring samples to the party.
"We will be adjacent to the classic car collection," he said. "We won't be getting away from the theme of California beach days, we'll just be opening the theme up, introducing a higher level of beach life."
Brockwell was raised in Norfolk, Va., but spent most of his adult life in Florida and was a frequent beach-goer there. He shifted oceans, but not pastimes, when he came to California.
"My wife says I have to visit the beach at least once a week; it's my genetics. I had to be a whale in a former life," Brockwell said. "There's something about the ocean. I'm in tune with it."
As a former retailer at San Buenaventura State Beach, Brockwell spent much time mingling with out-of-town visitors. He said the local coastline is relatively unknown, and he likes the publicity that the annual party attracts.