From Old Man’s and The Point, Uppers and Lowers, and all the spots in between, one would be hard-pressed to find a stretch of coastline in America that is more utilized and appreciated by surfers.
From kids just starting out to bona fide legends who changed the course of our sport and lifestyle, it’s an epicenter for surf culture and a hotbed for talent. So, my question this week, should Trestles and San Onofre be the next World Surfing Reserve?
The environmental organization Save The Waves has recently opened the application process to select its next World Surfing Reserve. With only one location selected every year, there are currently 12 World Surfing Reserves around the globe.
The closest is the iconic point at Malibu in Los Angeles County, while the newest addition to the list came last year, as North Devon in the United Kingdom was officially recognized.
The program is designed to protect surf breaks through stewardship, planning and local empowerment. Trestles and San Onofre seem ripe for such a classification.
From toll roads to nuclear waste, beach erosion to e-bike intrusion, the Trestles/San Onofre area has faced no shortage of challenges over the years. Thankfully, every time a cataclysmic issue has arisen, local folks, along with supporters from the surf community and other environmental and Indigenous groups, have rallied to “save” Trestles.
Reaching to the highest levels of the U.S. government, heck, it wouldn’t be a California State Park if it weren’t for President Richard Nixon.
Having the surf spots protected as a World Surfing Reserve seems as if it would certainly bolster the case for preserving these pristine surfing grounds for generations to come—especially as they face an uncertain future with the continued decommissioning of the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station, as well as renewed lease negotiations between the U.S. Military and State of California over the future of the park lands.
“The World Surfing Reserve approach is an effective community-based conservation model that can not only aid in protecting waves, but also coastal habitats, marine life and local economies,” Save The Waves Conservation Programs Manager Trent Hodges said in a press statement. “Save The Waves is excited to add another incredible surf ecosystem to the network.”
The application process is a lengthy one. First, a Letter of Inquiry must be approved. If permitted to officially apply, it goes to Save The Waves’ Vision Council. The council will judge the area based on five different criteria:
- Quality and consistency of the wave(s)
- Important environmental characteristics
- Culture and surf history
- Governance capacity and local support
- Priority conservation area
There are no shortage of reasons Trestles and San Onofre could be in the running for a World Surfing Reserve. The area’s Indigenous history goes back centuries, while the surf-specific history can be traced to the 1920s.
San Onofre, and later Trestles, have long been key locations in the earliest of U.S. surf scenes. And today, the last two WSL world champions have been crowned on the cobblestone shore.
In 2008, Surfrider Foundation’s Chad Nelson co-authored a “surfenomics” study that found Trestles attracted more than 330,000 people to San Clemente annually, while accounting for more than $10 million in revenue annually.
Surely those numbers have ballooned considerably since the study was released 15 years ago. Not only would World Surfing Reserve classification have environmental upsides, there are also some very real economic benefits.
As noted, the application process takes some work, but for a group of locals keen to spearhead the effort, it’s most definitely a noble cause worth the effort.
The application window is open until May 25. For more information, check out savethewaves.org.
Jake Howard is a local surfer and freelance writer who lives in San Clemente. A former editor at Surfer Magazine, The Surfer’s Journal and ESPN, today he writes for a number of publications, including Picket Fence Media, Surfline and the World Surf League. He also works with philanthropic organizations such as the Surfing Heritage and Culture Center and the Positive Vibe Warriors Foundation.
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