The Coast News Group
Dana Point, circa 1965, looking much the same as it did when Richard Henry Dana caught sight of it more than a century earlier. Courtesy photo

The lesson of Dana Point

Richard Henry Dana might have wished there were a harbor to shelter him from the big south swells when he pulled his wood ship into the snug harbor that continues to bear his name, Dana Point.

He landed in that beautiful cove in the mid-1800s, and it would take another century for me and thousands of other surfers to discover it for ourselves.

I didn’t surf the point often but spent many happy hours at other, now-destroyed little breaks just to the south.

By the mid ’60s, Dana would not recognize the town of Dana Point, or that building called a surf shop (Hobie). And what would he think of all those horseless carriages on smooth-as-silk roads? He certainly could have identified the point, which at that time of my arrival had no other manmade intrusion than a pier jutting out a few hundred feet.

Other than that, and those half-naked children on those weird fiberglass (what is fiberglass, he wonders?) planks, the spot would have looked identical. There was probably not nearly as much sea life, but abalone and lobster were still there in abundance in my youth for anyone willing to get wet.

By 1969, a boat harbor laid the gravestones for all of it, including the best of the waves in the region, from Dana Point proper to Dana Cove, to Fisherman’s and Mee Pees. The crystal-clear water was fouled, the rugged seafloor was dredged, the cliffs dynamited, and a city that looks like most other poorly planned SoCal cities, with a Jack in the box, a Starbucks and a Verizon store, desecrated the hillside.

I was, in fact, so lost for a while after that, that I drove past Dana Point rather than face the place that had shaped my youth.

Dana Point Harbor remains the biggest natural disaster of my lifetime. I’m sure many other surfers feel the same.

What many may not realize, however, is that the Army Corps of Engineers, the same crew that built the harbor, also had Cardiff Reef locked in its crosshairs.

Think of that, all you Cardiff locals! There was nearly a boat harbor in the place where you were hanging five, snapping back or getting barreled just yesterday morning.

It may have been an economic downturn that stopped the rocks from destroying all those good waves. I’m not really sure, but I know for certain it was not surfers marching en masse on City Hall. That sort of thing just didn’t happen back then. And, in my opinion, it doesn’t happen often enough now.

Let’s push back against those who think of waves as a hindrance to boat travel or the ocean as a dumping ground. Attend city council meetings, write your state representative, clean up the beach, keep our gutters free from anything other than rainwater, and fight runaway development, a disease that eliminates porous ground, which is often the last defense against toxic runoff, turning the otherwise blue ocean brown.

As the saying goes, “Surf the world; it’s yours!” The waves belong to me, you and future generations. Dana Point was ours too once. It still would be if people like me and you had the guts to stand up and conquer the waves of injustice.