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Holiday at Beach a High Point in Endless Summer

Labor Day: Families with grills, coolers and boogie boards get together for a season that really isn't over.


HUNTINGTON BEACH — It's over . . . sort of.

Tradition has it that summer ends on Labor Day, but to hundreds of Orange County residents who crowded local beaches and parks for cooling dips and family barbecues, the holiday meant little more than a day off work and extra time with the kids.

"It used to be traumatic," said Gene Finney, who moved to Huntington Beach from New Jersey four years ago. "Back east, you knew the weather would change and you'd be inside for months. But here, it's summer all year, right?"

Finney spent the afternoon reading Carl Sagan on the beach, while his wife, Laurie, settled into a new Danielle Steele book.

They were an island of quiet calm in a sea of beach madness: squealing toddlers building sandcastles, gulls squawking over abandoned potato chips, dueling radios, giggling teenagers, loud airplanes towing ads.

As at other Orange County beaches, the crowd here was about as heavy as it gets all year, with only the Fourth of July coming close. And the combination of small surf and warm water--72 degrees here, 75 degrees in Laguna Beach--induced many beach-goers to stay on their boogie boards.

"A lot of our towers are staying open until dusk because it's so warm, people are staying in the water," Huntington Beach lifeguard Lt. Steve Davidson said. "We've had some rescues, but for a crowded weekend like this, it's been pretty calm."

By early afternoon, Nelson Montejo was among the water-logged. He'd spent most of the day in the water with various family members who joined him for his 15th annual Labor Day beach gathering.

"You can't really call it the end-of-summer blowout, because in California, it's a never-ending vacation all year," he said as his wife, Nilda, dripped salt water next to him.


The Montejos of Huntington Beach staked out their piece of sand south of the pier at 8 a.m., when the beach was nearly empty. They set up a canopy, pulled up a barbecue grill, four coolers and a stack of new boogie boards, and waited for about 20 family members to pull in from Orange and Los Angeles counties.

"I felt kind of guilty at first, coming here to enjoy ourselves, because of the tragedy," he said, referring to the car crash that killed Princess Diana and two others. "There was something special about her, something in her eyes. But I guess you've just got to keep going on with life."

As he spoke, Montejo's 5-year-old niece, Jocelyn, tugged on his trunks and waved a board leash. "I want to go back in," she insisted. "I already had to rescue her twice," Montejo sighed. "Guess I'd better go back."

Just up the beach, Linda Blake and John Brennan of Bellflower relaxed in the sun as two grandchildren slept soundly in a portable crib under a shade and other family members lounged on beach towels nearby. "I needed this," said Brennan as he exhaled deeply. "I'll say," Blake seconded. "I could live with three-day weekends all the time."

The couple hoped at least 20 family members would join them at the beach by the time they barbecued hot dogs at dusk, wrapping up a traditional Labor Day weekend that began with a trip to Catalina Island and included a pool party at a neighbor's house.

"We're just relaxing and enjoying," Brennan said. "I probably won't see a lot of the grandkids until their next school break, so I'm making the best of the time we have today."

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