Skip to main content

San Clemente Journal

30 Years of Memories - "San Clemente Ocean Festival"

May 05, 2006 09:45AM ● By Don Kindred

By Bill Thomas

photos by Bill Furnish, Chuck Narey & Don Kindred

It’s been three decades – almost a third of a century - since a small, devoted group first created a local water-oriented event, turning it into a “…making it happen every year” celebration. And it has…Los Angeles and New York have their annual marathons, Paris has its Bastille Day, New Orleans and Rio their Mardi Gras; London celebrates its Guy Fawkes Day. What does San Clemente have? Right On! You guessed it –

The Ocean Festival!

In the late ‘60s and early ‘70s, Southern California teams of lifeguards regularly organized casual swimming and board surfing competitions on beaches up and down the coast. After they began training their own “junior lifeguards,” and members of their families dipped into the brine for their own recreation, interest in enlarging these ocean sports encounters gained momentum. 

In 1976, Sheridan Byerly, San Clemente’s Marine Safety Captain, and young Lynn Hughes, later to succeed him, combined forces with publicist Dorothy Fuller and volunteer Miki Wolfe, and others, to plan a water sporting event to involve, not only life guards, but the general water-loving public. They agreed to emphasize water safety and appreciation, as well as showcase the many recreational opportunities an ocean and beach could provide. Their theme was to have families and lifeguards “…engaged together in fun activities on the beach,” a path still followed by their successors. Little did they imagine that thirty years later, their creation would continuously lure thousands of participants and spectators, to enjoy a gigantic, ocean-oriented circus. 

Dorothy Fuller, who was to make the Ocean Festival practically her life’s work, coined the catchy phrase “Greatest Show on Surf,” and through her organizational, photographic, and journalistic talent became recognized as “Mother of the Ocean Festival.” Annually, an award in her honor is presented to a worthy Festival volunteer. Awardees have included Mary Anna Anderson, Joanne Perkins, Helen McCue, Deanna Botello, and last year’s recipient, former beach master, Dave Peter.

Like charging, frothing waves breaking on the San Clemente beach, each annual Ocean Festival is different. Past years have featured Mini Mermaid and Junior Neptune costumed kids, lobster shuffles and crab scurries with young ankles tied together in a crablike position, gunny sack races, “Pigs in Space” sky divers plunging from the clouds, the three-legged lobster race, pigeon releases, jazzercise on the beach, King Neptune’s Treasure Hunt, tugs of war, chariot races, jousting contests, volleyball tournaments, chalk murals, Pier Bowl Parades, and nomadic tent displays. However, the major events have remained the same, growing both in intensity and popularity, life guard competition becoming watermen/women competition; pancake breakfasts served by life guards; swimming, the 5K beach run, and surfing contests for all comers; King Neptune and the Woody Car Show the past 10 years; the Beach Blanket Barbeque and Beach Band Concert (this year Dean Torrance’s Surf City All-Star Band); the Art Show on the grass; Sand Sculpting; fishing off the pier; dory and rubber duck races; and the Children’s Pavilion. 

Community involvement has been the key to the Festival’s success since its birth. Hundreds of volunteers have contributed to the Festival, most of whom are or have become community leaders and continue to serve various San Clemente causes. The ever-evolving Ocean Festival Board of Directors attracts new leadership each year. The current board, led by repeat President Mary Anna Anderson, who with her Councilman husband Joe became involved from the very beginning, counts among its membership Sheila Martin, Steve Ynzunza, Lauren Kelly, Gary Button, Tod Bryant, Nick Azzollini, and Beth Apodaca, who, with others, head various committees and supervise Festival activities. Peggy Vance capably serves as the Board’s executive director and Barrett Tester, Quiksilver executive and former national champion ocean swimmer and body surfer, insures the Festival’s world-class reputation as athletic director. 

Past Presidents who have paddled their gavels over the years include Boyd Amers, Jr., Larry Wohlfarth, Kevin Evans, Deanna Botello, Lois Thompson, Peggy Vance, Lauren Kelly, Mary Anna Anderson, and Roy Girvan. Logo, T-shirt and poster designs have featured the works of Malcolm Wilson, Rick Delanty, and Bob Harlow. Dave Robertson, Joe Flum and Vince Baca have, in turn, donned the attire of King Neptune. Char Bailey, Gary Button, and Dave Doherty have spearheaded the Woody Car Shows. Don and Shirley Stanley, Ed Martin, Dean Elston, and now Don Gleason have headed the Fishing Derbies. The Sand Sculpting completion, begun by Gary Kinsella, has been guided from the early days Mike Burke and Judy Johnson. The difficult task of logistics; setting up all of the tents, booths, stages, platforms and equipment; has passed through the hands of Rick Anderson, Rod Rodriquez, the Arons family, and now Steve Ynzunza. Local sponsors such as Fisherman’s Restaurant, Schleppies, Carbonara’s; RBF; Marblehead; Lusk; South Coast Distributing; and Cassano’s Pizza have helped make it all possible. The list goes on…

Over these continuous years of growth, the Ocean Festival has arrived at a maturity that effectively celebrates the beauty, uniqueness, recreation, and magnetism of an ocean setting, attracting ocean athletes who challenge their limits and extend their boundaries, providing a shared, fun-filled family outing. Benefactors include, not only local attendees and event participants, but the worker bees who make it happen, as well as Southern Californians and tourists who come from all over the United States and other places in the world. Recently, on an ocean liner leaving Australia for New Zealand, I saw three different passengers proudly wearing Ocean Festival T-shirts they had obtained in past years. As for athletes, many of whom represented the United States in Olympic water events such as water polo, swimming, and kayaking, lifesaving iron men legends have included Mitch Kahn, still a regular competitor; Craig Hummer, an ESPN water sports analyst; Mike Newman, who played himself on the popular television program “Baywatch;” Geoff Moysa; Anthony Vela; Carter Mudge; Jeff Kumer; Al Lavayn; Collin McPhillips; Paul Donahue, and Jeff Kramer. On the distaff side, Deidre Fisher, Heidi Henneman, Bonnie Spivey, and Diane Cramer have been consistent winners. Long time competitors have included artist Rick Delanty; Rob Pelkey, a state lifeguard who has participated since he was a junior lifeguard; and Jim Holloway, San Clemente’s Community Development Director. 

Each year, as a non-profit organization, the San Clemente Ocean Festival Incorporated donates, after expenses, the remaining monies to local charities, causes, and youth education scholarships. Last year, some $17,500 was dispensed to worthy applicants.

So mark “OFF” on your calendars – July 15 and 16, 2006. We’ll see you there…b