The Coast News Group
An abandoned house was a surf bum’s dream. Photo by Chris Ahrens

Surf shacks

I moved into my first house on 3rd and G Street in Encinitas in the summer of 1970. The place was something of a Christian commune, referred to as “The Brothers’ House.”

The rent was $100 a month, a fee that when split nine or 10 ways meant I had to come up with about 12 bucks each time the calendar hit 1.

Being unemployed, that wasn’t always easy. So, I got a job at the Penny Saver stuffing flyers. A half day’s labor was then traded for food, lodging and 35 cents-a-gallon gas for the occasional Trestles run.

After most of the Brothers moved out, the place fell further into disrepair and was taken over by R.C., DA, and Brimo, a Pacific Beach crew that soon made Swami’s home.

I fled south to Cardiff, where a three-bedroom house with an ocean view put pressure on us to come up with $33.33 and a third each month. The rent was the same as my previous residence, but the number of occupants was smaller.

We thought it was a great deal until hearing that Cheer Crithclow, and Bill and Richard Bernard were paying $45 a month for a little place down the street. You could have bought one of those places for less than $20,000, but who had the $ 2,000 down payment?

Anyway, I didn’t want to stay in Southern California; I was on my way to Australia where rent was even less — one little flat in a beach town called Curl Curl required 10 bucks a week from my roommate and me. The landlords, as it turned out, were Jim and Cris Machado, whose son Rob (you might have heard of him) was yet unborn.

Moving back to the U.S. after two years, I found shelter on the cliff overlooking Swami’s in places that had once served as a migrant camp for flower field workers. We stapled plastic over the holes where windows had once been, went to the city, had the water turned on and lived rent-free with what is now a multi-million-dollar view. 

That was the last of the fit-for-any-budget houses as North County was becoming the latest hot spot with rents that had rocketed to over $500 a month and home prices making the equivalent jumps.

(I had a girlfriend who lived with her parents in La Jolla at the time and she told me that her house, which had a view of the beaches from La Jolla Shores to Black’s and beyond, had been appraised for $80,000!)

After renting more houses with various groups of surfers, I eventually scrapped together all the change I could find in the couch and bought a condo in Vista for $35,000.

I was a homeowner, and I didn’t much care for the feeling. There were broken pipes and delinquent roommates and property taxes and what would I do when the travel bug hit again?

No matter where I had traveled: Hawaii, Micronesia, Australia, New Zealand or Mexico, life was always pretty much the same — the rich grazed on the fat of the land, and the leaner and I would say healthier bits could be gleaned for pennies by nearly anyone.

That was until some smart developer saw there was money being left on the table and began to mow down those funky little shacks that were stuffed with surf-stoked bodies, homemade boards and little else.

The old places are now new places free from mold, feral cats, surf bums like me and soul and memories that no amount of millions can ever buy.