By Steve Breazeale
The Fourth of July holiday brings to mind several classic all-American traditions.
People get together with family and friends, maybe barbecue some delicious food and everyone stops when night falls to watch a local fireworks display.
In San Clemente, there is another tradition that locals can uniquely call their own—office chair racing.
The San Clemente Fourth of July Office Chair Downhill Derby is part soapbox racing, part spring break-style party, where dozens of brave racers modify office chairs, put on costumes and hurl themselves down a quarter-mile gauntlet that starts at Avenida Rosa and ends at the intersection of Avenida Santa Barbara and Calle Seville while chasing glory on the most patriotic day of the year.
A deep YouTube dive when searching “San Clemente Office Chair Race” can show just how unique the racers’ “vehicles” can be.
“Each downhill racer must start out life as a real office chair,” the race’s official website states before adding that modifications, whether necessary or not, are encouraged.
People attach bicycle handlebars, big rubber wheels, surfboards and whatever else they can find to the framework of a chair in hopes of reaching the bottom in one piece while maximizing speed. Every year there are still a few purists who barrel down the hill on the classic, standard office chair.
The event’s organizers have been elusive, but a detailed description of the event can be found on the race’s official website www.officechairrace.com.
According to the site, the event started 13 years ago when three roommates living on the corner of Avenida Rosa and Ola Vista got together on July 4 and wanted to kill some time while they waited for their food to cook. They turned to speeding down the street on office chairs, becoming the race’s founding fathers in the process.
The race website accredits resident Larry Butler for taking the event to new heights. Butler and his fellow Pier Bowl neighbors decided to modify the chairs and have a real race down to the Pier every Fourth of July.
The event, which is not affiliated with the city in any way, has since morphed into a full-on spectacle, complete with qualifying heats, a main event and a “kamikaze downhill” race.
As a safety measure, the course has been shortened to cover roughly a quarter-mile, and is lined with hundreds of spectators. Popular spots for viewing are at the starting line and near the intersection of Avenida Rosa and Avenida Victoria, dubbed “the trench”. Race times are relaxed and are not on a set schedule, but spectators can follow the Facebook page for updates at www.facebook.com/OfficeChairRace.