Making Waves: A dangerous surf game

It was a forbidden place but we had to go there.

We had to surf the best waves in the world on a beach called Lower Trestles.


There was only one catch, this beach was on Camp Pendleton Marine Base, that happened to be guarded by 10,000 Marines who just loved to catch surfers sneaking in and take away our surfboards.

But we didn’t care, the waves were so good it was worth sneaking into this Fort Knox of surf spots. What a game it was!

This zany, totally illegal conflict was played out by almost every surf bum on the California coast. Surfers would paddle through the dank marshes of Camp Pendleton to emerge onto the beach, and Marines would leap out and try to snatch their boards.

Every surfer worth his surf wax had a story of how he had kicked or tricked some soldier and got away to tell his tale over a cerveza or two. To say you’d surfed Lower Trestles was a badge of honor.

Real soldiers with real guns lurked in the bushes waiting just for you.

I have a few stories myself.

One morning, slipping into the Trestles’ swamp paddling past bullfrogs and rubber tires I finally arrived at the coveted surf mecca. I’d made it!

Not a soul on the beach as I gazed out at perfect green 5-foot waves. I surfed glorious waves for two hours. I paddled in and was staring out at the ocean when I heard a booming voice on a megaphone behind me, “Hey surfer come on up here right now!”

I turned to see two jeeps and about 15 Marines on the hill above me. I shouted, “I’ll be right up!” then grabbed my board and ran up the beach! I looked behind and they were streaming down the hill after me, shouting away, their billy clubs waving.

Lucky for me they stumbled onto a group of surfers and grabbed them up as I ran on.

It was not always serious. Those Marines had a sense of humor.

One day, six of us were in my ‘51 Plymouth, our boards sticking out of the trunk looking like a big porcupine. We were unloading our boards on the off-ramp to sneak in when I turned to see a smiling military man who told us to drive up to the guard gate to be busted.

When we got to the gate they told us to get out of the car. We were by a small hill. They told us to race to the top of the hill and the winner would get his board back, the rest would lose theirs. We took off running. My friends all made it back down. Me being the lazy one, sauntered in dead last.

The Marines laughed and one said, “I like his style, he gets his board back, the rest of you lose yours!” My friends watched as their boards were hauled away in a truck.

Those were the days at that swampy beach known as Lower Trestles, San Clemente, California.

Time slouched forward to last week. I was having coffee and sitting down to read my West Hawaii Today paper. I turned to the Wednesday sports page seeing a surfer girl named Carissa Moore ripping across a wave winning an Olympic Surf Contest. Someone named Gabriel Medina also won. Great.

Reading further my mouth dropped open. This nice surf contest filled with surfers and cell phones, shave ice trucks, T-shirt stands and port-a-potties was held at none other than Lower Trestles.


I looked back on those days long ago of merry chases, surfing stolen waves and thought, “They’ll never know.”

Dennis Gregory writes a bi-monthly column for West Hawaii Today and welcomes your comments at