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Until the late ’60s, you had to walk through a horse pasture, trespass onto private property and sneak past the Marines if you wanted to surf Trestles. File photo
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Waterspot: With Trestles, it was love at first sight

Trestles, as most of you know, is a series of surf breaks located at the northern end of Camp Pendleton, on the border of San Diego and Orange counties.

These, of course, are not ordinary surf breaks, but some of the best waves on the California coast.

Lower Trestles focuses the south swells of summer better than anywhere except the now-buried Dana Point, and Upper Trestles is the dominant wave in the region during the north swells of winter.

Middles, Church (not Church’s as it is often called) and San Onofre border Lower Trestles to the south and the deep-water lefts of Cotton’s Point form a few hundred yards north of Upper Trestles.

While any one of those spots will have their day, Lower Trestles is where the action is most days, and is the focus of this short story.

Until the late ’60s, you had to walk through a horse pasture, trespass onto private property and sneak past the Marines if you wanted to surf Trestles.  The reward was a day of adventure and perfect waves with only a few people out.

On my first trip to Trestles, I witnessed the best surf and surfing I had seen to that point.

A solid south swell combined with a dead-low tide provided a liquid stage for two of Hawaii’s and one California’s best surfers to perform upon.

Even from shore I recognized the deep power carves of Hawaiian Barry (BK) Kaniaupuni.

Also in the lineup was Hawaii’s ambidextrous and amazing Jock Sutherland. The sole Californian out that day was Phil Edwards’ top protégé, the ever-smooth Billy Hamilton. 

Realizing I would never again be treated to such a show, I sat on the beach and observed some of the best surfers in the world riding some of its best surf. While the others were no doubt brilliant, BK stands out in my memory with that “bully” bowlegged stance, fading deep and carving so hard you could nearly hear the ocean groan in his wake.

Lower Trestles is generally not very hollow, but this day was an exception and tubular sections opened wide enough for Barry to stuff his muscular frame into.

When I finally paddled out, I rode the inside section, in order to give the stars room and not have them witness my inferior wave-riding abilities.

The sun was low as we left for home. Then, suddenly, off in the distance we saw the dust of a military Jeep headed our way.

Scampering beyond the beach sand and the Jeep’s ability to follow us, we began climbing a rutted hill, with one zealous Marine behind us yelling, “halt,” an order we defied as we continued climbing our way to freedom. 

The hill was bordered by barbwire and when my foot slipped, I grabbed onto it and deeply sliced my hand open. Without looking back, we outran the flat-footed Marine.

We won that one, but there would be other days when we surrendered our boards to the military.

That was the penalty for being caught at Trestles — they took your surfboard and your parents had to come down and claim it.

But on that first day there was no confiscation, and we stood proudly on the side of the highway, looking out at now-empty perfection, thinking life would always be that way and me not giving a thought to my bleeding hand or the possibility of tetanus.

Perfection, it turns out, is a great anesthetic.

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