Jim Hurt can feel it all slipping away, and he doesn't know what to do about it. Oh, it's not as though the ocean is going anywhere or tomorrow there won't be an Upper Trestles to surf . . . but it's all changing.
Once a surfing haven as well as a hideaway, Trestles is getting sucked into the urbanized world around it. The frames are up on a 128-unit Marine Corps housing tract on the bluffs overlooking Upper Trestles, and an extension of the Foothill toll road into the area is on the drawing board, too.
Angered, Hurt wrote letters to public officials. That got him nowhere, so he tried something else.
Maybe if he told people his story, he said to himself. Maybe then, people would understand why this stretch of beach and ocean south of San Clemente means so much to so many people.
And so, the 52-year-old Boeing employee who's been surfing since he was a student at La Habra High School began reflecting and writing . . .
Surfin' Eddie Hay wasn't always Surfin' Eddie. In 1962, he was just another kid on the La Habra High wrestling team . . .
Hurt and Eddie Hay were friends who built a 9-foot surfboard from a kit that Eddie's father gave his son as a Christmas present. They rode their first waves at Huntington, but it wasn't long before these North County boys discovered South County.
During Easter break, Dad took the family, including Eddie and the board, for a camp-out at Doheny, another gift from God. I remember walking out on the beach after a long drive, seeing wave after wave of crystal clear water breaking over the reef, all under a bright sun and beautiful blue sky. For the rest of that day and the following three, from first light to dark of night, Eddie and I surfed.
Hurt went on to college, got married, had children, got a job. Amid all that change, surfing remained a mainstay in his life.
I was first introduced to Upper Trestles in the summer of '63. . . . The broad reef formed by San Mateo Creek broke on all swells, the water was clear and clean, the mile walk in, unique to Southern California surf spots, was a natural garden path, fragrant and enchanting. The creek bed flowed through a forest so thick we called it the jungle; there were deer, bobcat and mountain lion in there too, along with frogs and rattlers.
Trestles became Hurt's surfing home. Today, he goes twice a week in summer and once in winter. When I ask if he's a stereotype of the Southern California surfer, he laughs and says he has 75 Hawaiian shirts and leaves it at that.
What was it like? It was surfing with dolphins, barking at seals, gazing at whales that would raise their heads just outside and look you right in the eye. It was sitting in shoals of anchovies, leaping halibut, sometimes even flying fish skittering over the end of your board. . . . It was surfing a sparkling sea in the morning and dark lines by moonlight. . . . It was walking back after dark, nothing but sea and sand and jungle, moonlight sparkling across the bay, balmy and magical. It was growing up and growing old, in Paradise.
I ask Hurt what he would do about the encroaching development. "To me, this is a situation where people ought to be lying down in front of bulldozers," he says. "It should be a confrontational, demonstrative, in-your-face type of response." In the next breath, though, he says people don't do things like that anymore.
Trestles and its unique environment is no longer protected or secluded. . . . Massive development will follow the toll road, the jungle, stream and lagoon will become concrete storm drains, water treatment plants and sewage outfalls, and in a few short years Trestles will be finished.
I'm not saying that everything Hurt fears will come true. Some environmentalists have said it's too early to assess the impact of the proposed toll-road extension.
But Hurt speaks for an untold number of Southern Californians who wonder why progress must be defined by steel and concrete.
"A lot of young surfers don't know what they're losing," he says. "They go out and surf and the water is filthy, year-round, and they don't think twice about it. They never had the experience I had, surfing in Orange County in the early '60s and surfing in water that was pristine and a beautiful marine environment. Part of what I want to do is try and make them aware that it doesn't have to be this way and that it wasn't always this way."
Some will argue that this is progress, inevitable change. In my view, this is a choice between life and death, and we have somehow again, inexplicably, against all feeling and reason, chosen death.
Dana Parsons' column appears Wednesday, Friday and Sunday. Readers may reach Parsons by calling (714) 966-7821 or by writing to him at the Times Orange County Edition, 1375 Sunflower Ave., Costa Mesa, CA 92626, or by e-mail to email@example.com