US Marines and San Diego Surfers Duke It Out Over Strip of Coastline


Matt Mersel
Staff Writer

Photo by Morey Spellman

About an hour north of San Diego, near the border of Orange County, there is a small stretch of beach known as Trestles. For more than 40 years, the 2.25-mile strand of coast has attracted surfers from around the country and is a meaningful part of early surfing culture in the United States. However, to the Marines at the nearby Camp Pendleton, it looks like the perfect area for simulating beach assaults and transporting equipment up and down the coast.

The problem is that only one group can claim Trestles as its own.

From World War II until 1971, the spot was under U.S. military control. At the urging of President Nixon (who owned a house in nearby San Clemente), the land was released by the Marines and used to form San Onofre State Beach. However, since 1933, before Trestles was open to the public, surfers would frequently trespass on the beach for a chance to ride the sublime waves that can be found there, according to an article in the Los Angeles Times.

Half an hour away from San Onofre State Beach is Camp Pendleton, which is one of the most important military bases in the nation. Spanning almost 315 miles, it serves as a training ground for several different amphibious battalions and the headquarters for the 1st Marine Division. Established in 1942, it has served a major role in military operations for more than 70 years, according to the official United States Marine Corps website.

Despite the presence of the military base, the surfers of San Diego County believe that they have the rights to Trestles. As reported by Tony Perry of The Los Angeles Times, the Surfrider Foundation based in San Clemente has begun a movement to get Trestles listed on the National Register of Historic Places for its significance to the rise of surf culture. According to a statement released by the foundation in support of the listing, the surfers believe that designating the spot as a historic location “does not and will not impose any additional requirements for consultation for military training and operational use.”

Also in support of this cause are Mike Love and Bruce Johnston of The Beach Boys. Michael Gardner of U-T San Diego reports that letters written by the two musicians were part of a case made by the surfing community that led to a unanimous decision by the State Historic Preservation Commission to make Trestles eligible for its requested designation.

“The California surfing lifestyle, attitude and culture that started a national trend and reached a worldwide audience is deeply rooted at Trestles and San Onofre,” said Love.

The Marine Corps, however, are making a stand against the Surfrider Foundation and its supporters. According to Lea Sutton and Sarah Grieco of NBC San Diego, the Marines released a statement maintaining that “One of Camp Pendleton’s primary mission is to provide…the training opportunities necessary to ensure combat readiness. The requested designation…poses unacceptable risks to this essential military training.” The Los Angeles Times reports a statement made by state senators Mimi Walters and Mark Wyland, asserting that the designation would “put state bureaucrats and surfers in control of Marine Corps training near Trestles.”

At the moment, there is not much more that either side can do other than wait for an official verdict from the National Register of Historic Places. Public support is mixed in this situation, but second-year biology major and San Diego native Sean Thompson helps put the debate into perspective.

“I think there is a definite balance that needs to be kept between the two ‘sub-cultures’ within San Diego,” says Thompson. “San Diego is really well known for its nice weather and great surf, but at the same time it is a center for our national defense.”

At the end of the day, though, his support rests with the surfers.

“I’d rather have Trestles kept open for surfers. Personally, living nearby Camp Pendleton, I know that the Marines have plenty of land already.”