Dana Point is a California tragedy. A once-quaint town built upon a quainter headland with a good wave resting upon a seafloor wealthy with abalone and lobster.
You might wonder why I use past tense when referring to the place. I do so because the spot I first encountered in the early ’60s no longer exists.
Gone are the life-giving reefs, the hidden pocket beaches, the rugged cliffs with their secret caves, the clean water, the great waves and the men like Whitey Harrison and Ron Drummond who rode them.
Gone are the crisp reef breaks between Dana Cove and Doheny, spots rarely surfed, with names like “Mee Pees” and “Fisherman’s,” a dot of a reef far offshore that Hawaiian surfing legend Jock Sutherland once compared to Oahu’s Ala Moana.
While this is a tragedy in itself, much more than waves and sea life were lost in 1969 when the rock harbor entombed the place.
While we mostly surfed Doheny, that fun little wave directly to the south of Dana Point, perfect for hotdogging or learning, big south swells would turn our attention to Killer Dana, the outside reef break that roared to life a few days each year, mostly during late summer.
As kids we feared and respected the Point for its size. When we got older, however, we realized that Dana Point was not much of a killer, but a gentle, forgiving wave that could make you feel like a hero whenever you made the drop, trying to steer clear of the older gentlemen on their balsa planks and the amazing ironman, Ron Drummond, on his canoe. (Drummond, who would sometimes stand up on his canoe, is the first Stand Up Paddler I ever saw.)
Like a legendary old surfer who once ruled the waves at your home break, we respected Killer Dana and would sometimes speak of how the big boulders being dumped to form her sarcophagus would be busted up like pebbles during the first big Chubasco swell.
That was our “Elvis is still alive” moment, a desperate wish without facts to back it up. And, of course, that wish never came true.
When the harbor was complete, many of the surfers I had grown up with moved on — some to Hawaii, some to the mountains, many more to the Encinitas area, where I too migrated in the summer of 1970.
In the ’60s there were plans for other pleasure boat harbors up and down the California coast.
One that reached the blueprint stage was slated to destroy our own Cardiff Reef, something that would probably have negatively affected not only the main breaks there, but the surrounding spots — Seaside to the south and Pipes to the north.
Killer Dana is dead, but its legend continues as does, hopefully, the lessons of a place in time that we loved and lost, without a fight.
I wonder what Richard Henry Dana — who in his classic book, “Two Years Before the Mast,” called Dana Point “the most romantic spot on the California coast” — would think of it all.
I like to think he would side with many of us who remain appalled by the diesel-spewing power boats and the taming of those once wild waters.
Then again, he might be like many others who visit there — glad that the waves no longer interfere with sailing and happy for a quick bite before heading out to sea again.