How Richard Nixon Jump-Started California Surfing

Yesterday kicked off the Nike Lowers Pro surf contest at Lower Trestles, South Orange County, California. Chris Mauro gives a short history of Trestles below, while this Nike video digs into the archives for a great look back.

In the early 1970′s only one Trestles local mattered, one who loomed larger than anyone before or since — President Richard Nixon. With policy summits on China, Russia, and Vietnam taking place at his Western White House at Cotton’s Point, the Marines had the famed San Clemente surf breaks on lockdown, sealing any remaining paths of access.

Fortunately, some of Nixon’s closest aides belonged to the San Onofre Surf Club and they convinced the president that Trestles was one of California’s most treasured playgrounds. Yet by the time Nixon created a state park that opened Trestles to the public, the surfing landscape in California had gone dark. Surfers beleaguered and weary of the establishment had retreated from the international surfing scene, avoiding competitive gatherings of any kind.

Then, in 1977, Trestles hosted its first professional event ever, the Sutherland Pro. The visiting Free Ride generation of surfers from Australia and Hawaii woke the sleepy Californians out of their slumber with their mind-bending attacks that paved the way for performance shortboard surfing, and ultimately, a California rebirth.

Three decades later, Lower Trestles is the world’s brightest stage for high-performance surfing, a launch pad for future American and international stars, and a crucial stop on the road to a world championship. And while only a handful of events are run each year at Trestles, the Prime-rated Nike Lowers Pro is the largest assembly of global talent, with 96 of the world’s best vying for the world’s attention.

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  • steven threndyle

    There’s a story in a back issue of er about John Severson, who says that San Clemente surfing was in fact ‘ruined’ by Nixon because of the secret service attention to the local breaks, etc. Funny how – growing up in those times – I ALWAYS associated San Clemente and Nixon, and, well, evil.

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