by Coach Benner Cummings
These past months have found San Clemente enriched again by its talented surfers. Wins and honors seem to come almost weekly, with longtime Triton surfers still finishing strong for themselves and our city — the Beschens, McPhillips, Andinos, Longs, Ward, Losness, Yeomans, Drummy, Baxter, Moysa, and Dustin Franks – while the eager new faces of gremmies and betty’s push to the fore, never seeming able to read enough about the surfers who become their heroes.They’re always thinking, “Time and youth are on our side.” One would have to place Patrick Gudauskas, Dane and Tanner near the front of this new, fast, sure-of-themselves breed of surfers. There’s also the fast-rising 10-year-old Kolohe Andino who’s winning many of the age-group contests. Then one must add Andrew Gahan, Travis Melem, Brandon Ragenovich, Tom Witt, talented Dane Ward, and Max McEllwee; plus of course the winning ladies Anastasia Ashley and Coleen Mehlberg.
The sport of surfing has grown so rapidly from about 4,000 surfers world-over, to close to 3.5 million today. It’s a far cry from those Triton pioneers of the early sixties. They were a small band of high school surfers without modern wetsuits, braving the chilly waters off the SC Pier, T-Street and Poche in worn-out sweatshirts and tattered P.E. trunks, maybe even missing a class or two on those clear sunny fall mornings. Heroes to them were John Severson, Bruce Brown and Hobie Alter, while they themselves never gave a “twit” about those knightly surfing conquests. Just to be surfing was satisfaction enough. They were as tan as kelp, and like all surfers the world over, it was generally, “Surf’s Up! So let’s go!” They were without knowing or caring — floating, sliding, gliding, barreling. They rode upon the ocean’s back daily, on boards that appeared closer to wooden planks and often appearing to weigh as much. Very few were able to afford the newer lighter balsa-wood-framed boards.
For them, it really didn’t matter. For theirs was an era of limiting obligations. Surfing together like brothers, they enjoyed life fully for itself. Rich, they certainly were not. But alone or otherwise, their friends were mostly surfers. That was worth a lot in itself. Their youth was filled with thoughts all boys seem to have, doing well by their parents and teachers. Yet, they were deeply proud too, without giving notice as such, that they alone were singled out to be called “Surfers,” which in those days, even as today, carried a “mystique” all its own. They were free from pressures like surfing contest; still, they always managed those five-foot swells on a beautiful October’s ocean. “Tritons of the surf” they truly were - Joe Schact, Hank Barnes, Tommy Merriel, Ricky Miller, Richard Lockwood, Allen Seymore, Fred Stier, Tracy Sizemore, Brian Test, Lorren Harrison and others – laying the foundations of today’s powerful Triton surfing teams under Coach Bill Hartman.
Someday soon our city needs to have a trophy plaque with all the past names of these early pioneers of San Clemente surfing, plus the additional names of surfing talents that have followed. It’s something the Chamber of Commerce, City Hall, or a contributing merchant might place at the pier entrance, for all San Clementeans and proud California surfers to see and perhaps reflect upon, remembering those happy times and moments of close camaraderie.