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Civics Action

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In January of 1961, a group of San Diego residents organized a war on surfing. Viewed as derelict no-gooders, surfers were blamed for many indiscretions happening at beach access points around the city. Accusations of burned lawns, destroyed gardens, waxed sidewalks, harassment, vagrancy, trespassing, and the propagation of communism plagued the surf community. The access at Pacific Beach Point was the epicenter of these complaints and the neighbors there, spearheaded by a retired Navy Dentist named Carl A. Schlack, took their complaints to the city. As a result, the San Diego City Council held hearings in the Spring of 1961 to decide whether or not to restrict surfing hours, require surfboard licenses, and restrict surfing to six beaches including Windansea, La Jolla Shores, two beaches in Pacific Beach, South Mission, and Ocean Beach.

On April 8th, armed with signs, suits, and ties, local surfers staged a protest march downtown prior to one of the hearings. Two days later, in a packed council chamber, Ron Church submitted a petition to the council requesting more designated beaches. Several residents and surfers, including Floyd Smith, addressed the city council members. Surfers reflected Church’s position. He said, “When a drunk is driving down the street, you don’t close the street to all drivers. You arrest the drunk. Why pick on all surfers for the actions of a few?” The council decided to postpone any immediate action until studies of the conflict and the coastline could be completed.

Accusations of burned lawns, destroyed gardens, waxed sidewalks, harassment, vagrancy, trespassing, and the propagation of communism plagued the surf community.

One of the original plans that resulted from this hearing involved building a “Surf Park,” the first of it’s kind, at Tourmaline, a sub-par wave in Pacific Beach. The idea was that the park would contain surfers to this one area. Tourmaline, at the time, was not even the family friendly wave that it is today. There was no sand and no one surfed there. The irony of building a surf park at a wave where no one surfed was lost on the city council. Surfers, however, protested the development on the grounds that it would be a waste of money.

In response to these proposed legislative actions, surfers embarked on an intense P.R. campaign over the next few years. The goal: to clean up their image in the eyes of the community. Thanks to the work of several San Diego surf clubs, particularly Windansea, the surfers’ image slowly started to change. Club members participated in beach clean ups, contests, and clinics. These events were covered by the San Diego Union and the Evening Tribune and Windansea surfers were seen on NBC’s “Wide World of Sports.”

Thanks to the publicity generated by the P.R. campaign there was a gradual community acceptance of surfing. San Diego Beaches remained open and the city government view on surfing took a 180. The Tourmaline Surf Park was completed and dedicated in May of 1965, but was not frequented by hordes of surfers until the sand filled in over a decade later. Mirroring public sentiment and coinciding with the dedication, the mayor and city council declared that the last week in May in San Diego would be Surfing Week.