San Clemente Pier Surf Culture
San Clemente is defined by our coastline; 13 surf breaks are in city limits.
California’s legendary surf break, Lower Trestles, is located at the mouth of San Mateo Creek, just south of Casa Pacifica, Richard Nixon’s former Western White House.
Surf culture reigns.
San Clemente has “surf” moms, not “soccer” moms. San Clemente High School holds surfing classes at the pier. Mark McElroy, Saddleback College’s head football coach and San Clemente High School alum, wrote the Saddleback College surfing curriculum.
Huntington Beach and Santa Cruz may vie for the title “Surf City USA,” but San Clemente High School has held the NSSA national surfing title in six of the last seven years.
Residents are fiercely protective of city beachfront.
Derail the Trail, a citizens’ grassroots group, formed in the 1990s to oppose a three-mile concrete trail from North Beach to San Clemente State Park. San Clemente City Council rejected the concrete trail in a 5-0 vote in 1999.
A Council-appointed group of diverse stakeholders drew up a new trail plan detailed in a 50-page January 2000 report. Negotiations took place between the City and the California Public Utilities Commission.
By October 2005, the project garnered requisite regulatory approvals. Two years later, the $10,000,000 decomposed granite multi-use three-mile trail (including bridges, 15 under-or-overpass railroad crossings and native plantings) was completed.
Surfrider Foundation, a San Clemente-based nonprofit grassroots ocean-protection organization, played a significant role in thwarting a 16-mile extension of Transportation Corridor Agency (TCA) Toll Road 241 from Rancho Santa Margarita to Interstate 5. The extension was to run through the San Mateo Creek watershed in mostly undisturbed Orange County back country and San Onofre State Park.
Surfrider argued that the $55 million per mile six-lane highway would significantly degrade water and wave quality.
Despite Governor Schwarzenegger’s support, the California Coastal Commission rejected (8-2 on February 6, 2008) TCA’s alignment. TCA appealed to the U.S. Department of Commerce, and thousands of citizens attended a ten-hour public hearing on September 22, 2008.
On December 8, 2008 the Commerce Department rejected TCA’s appeal since the project would have unavoidable, adverse impacts if built.
When Dave Cook moved to San Clemente, John Cuchessi befriended him and took Dave down to learn to surf at local breaks, “Riviera” and “T Street.”
When in high school, Cuchessi took a job at the Schwinn bike shop on the north end of town. In 1974, he opened San Clemente Cyclery in downtown. In the early 1990s, he co-founded the San Clemente Renegades, a recreational riding club.
In 2000, Cuchessi relocated his shop to a South El Camino Real storefront, a move considered risky by many. But the south end space was larger and its proximity to South Clemente State Park drew a steady flow of tourists.
Cuchessi ran a food bank at the cyclery and held Thursday evening Bible studies there.
Sundays, the Renegades bicycled to the south end of Camp Pendleton. Mondays, Cuchessi threw his surfboard on his bicycle and rode down to surf some of the lesser known surf breaks at Trestles.
But on May 18, 2008, the 54 year-old surfer-cyclist suffered a heart attack bicycling back from the Renegades Sunday Camp Pendleton ride.
About 1,500 people attended John’s funeral. Dave Cook, now the municipal golf pro, remembered him simply: “Nicest guy in town.”
A string of posts on a Surfer Magazine forum concurred.
This May, his wife, Sue; son, Andrew; friend, Pat Maloney, and cousin, Pam Sanborn, organized the John Cuchessi Memorial Bike Ride drawing 200 cyclists.
The $2,400 in proceeds collected from the ride went to the American Heart Association and Family Assistance Ministries. A portion of the proceeds will help families avoid eviction or foreclosure.
Mr. Cuchessi demonstrated how a local businessman can inculcate his positive values in a community. His contribution to bike culture in San Clemente will remain indelible.
Eco Man — Bike culture meets surf culture on Orange Coast
Written by Richard M. Stowe
Sunday, 16 August 2009 06:43
This is the last in a series of two articles by New Canaan resident Richard Stowe, founder and director of Rail Trains Ecology Cycling. He may be reached at bike. firstname.lastname@example.org .
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