Corky Carroll

San Clemente thrived during California's quiet years

I'm continuing with my series of stories about hot locals who were important to the surfing culture in one Orange County city or another during a certain time.

This is about surfers who most people probably never heard of yet excelled and were a part of the growth of our sport.

Today I wanna talk about the surf scene in San Clemente during the mid 1970's. That was a weird time for surfing here in Southern California. After the World Championships held in San Diego in 1972 almost the entire list of top professional surfers in California bailed out of the competition scene completely.

The entire focus of the "world" surfing picture switched from here to Australia and Hawaii exclusively. California went "underground." This is not to say that there was no surfing going on. There was more surfing going on than ever really, and much of it very good.

San Clemente has always been home for many great surfers. Being close to so many excellent surf spots at the south end of Orange County has made it a breeding ground for more than its share of talent. Dino Andino, Matt Archibald, the Beshan brothers, the Fletcher brothers, my older son Clint, to name a few.

The period that I am going to talk about today was just a little before those guys' time.

The "scene" in town was more or less divided into the actual surfing locations and the pier. The pier was the "surf social" spot. Everybody went down there to hang out, interact with the local cast of female talent, etc., etc. It was more or less the mating zone, so to speak.

But occasionally the surf would get almost good there too. Everybody surfed there a little but for the most part it was more of a social hang out.

I was one of the dudes who left the competitive surf world at the end of 1972. I spent three years in Idaho after that, skiing and playing music. When I came back to my home in Capistrano Beach in the spring of 1975 there was a whole new crop of extremely good young surfers dominating the line up at my favorite spot, Cotton's Point.

At the top of the list was a kid named Tommy Castleton who looked like he could be a world class pro if he kept going. He was a good-looking guy and very likeable. I could see this guy going a long way in the sport. His brother Dale was very good too.

There were also Eric and Mike Hopps who were from the San Onofre Hopps family. Both of these guys could flat out surf. Eric might have been one of the best unknown surfers ever to come out of the O.C. Then there was surfer/shaper Max McDonald who could do both very well. Max and I shared many a great day at Cotton's before it was very crowded.

Then there was Yale Espoy and the Peterson brothers. One of the brothers went by the nickname "Pudder." Pudder was a great kid and I liked him a lot. He also could really surf. Yale was a totally cool dude who moved into Cypress Shores. His parents bought Jim Arness's (Gunsmoke on TV) house after he had his knee surgery and couldn't surf much anymore.

Yale's parents opened a restaurant in town called the "City Yard Bar and Grill." We all worked there. Yale learned how to cook and was an assistant chef, I was a waiter and entertainment manager, and I think Pudder was a busboy. Mike Hopps was a waiter, too I think. It was the local all-star surf lineup crew - a great formula for disaster.

My favorite memory of that job involved Yale and this very cranky chef we had. This guy had been a Navy chef and in his eyes the social pecking order of life on our planet was first God, then chefs, then Elvis, then the President. At the bottom were waiters and anybody else who worked in a restaurant.

This dude's pride and joy was his cheesecake. He made us try and charge $15 for a little piece. That was a lot in 1975. One morning he came to work and the beautiful cheesecake that he had made the night before had an old smelly tennis shoe in the middle of it. He went postal and was out to behead the person who did it.

But he had to figure out who it was. It could have been anybody, we all hated the dude. It later came out that it was Yale.

I was so proud of him for that. I wish I had done it.