Surfing has always been a part of San Clemente’s identity – it’s where surf shops are more common than Starbucks and some of the world’s best mingle in the water with salty young groms, all frothing for perfect, peaky waves.
And, as the sport of surfing prepares for its Olympics debut to a world-wide audience, the small, southernmost coastal city in Orange County is becoming more than just a place seeping with the saltwater lifestyle.
While the sport was born in Hawaii, and the islands stake claim to much of surfing’s rich history, San Clemente is hoping to become the hub for the sport’s future, especially in the Summer Games.
And the city’s leaders and business owners and hometown surfers are on board for the ride.
“We have surfing champions from here. They grow up here, they surf here. We have the best waves in Southern California and it’s only natural we identify as the hub for national surfing, especially with surfing now in the Olympics,” Councilman Steve Knoblock said. “It’s just a wonderful opportunity to showcase the skill and the talent here in San Clemente and our beautiful beach town.”
USA Surfing, the national governing body for Olympic surfing in the United States, calls San Clemente home. There’s been talk recently of USA Surfing building a world-class performance training facility in town, just a short trek from the ocean.
The governing body is hoping to do here what Colorado Springs, in Colorado, did to become Olympic City, USA, home to the United States Olympic & Paralympic Committee and training ground for many national sports, said USA Surfing Chief Operating Officer Andrea Swayne.
“We really have our hearts set on branding and celebrating San Clemente as the surfing city of the United States,” she said.
“Everybody that lives here knows we are a breeding town for surfing talent,” Swayne said. “That’s what we’re known for, we are a surfing mecca. If you look at our Olympic team, it’s only a four-member team – two out of four live in San Clemente.”
Kolohe Andino and Florida transplant Caroline Marks will be joined by two Hawaiian surfers, John John Florence and Carissa Moore, for the international games in Japan.
Helping sell the image are three massive murals officially unveiled on Tuesday, June 29, that pay homage to surfing’s big Olympic debut. A walking tour for dignitaries and community members showcased the works recently finished by artists Melissa Murphy, Dana Martino and Jeff Lukasik in an alleyway near Avenida Del Mar, the town’s main street.
“This mural project is just the beginning,” Swayne said. “We hope we can celebrate it more in the future, in more ways, and include not only our talented surfers but our artists and local businesses, and just bring together the synergy of all of our citizens here.”
Last week, USA Surfing hosted an “Olympic Expression Session” at Lower Trestles that featured Andino, Marks and 11-time world champion Kelly Slater, first alternate for the Olympics.
They showcased their surf skills for the crowd during a break in the USA Surfing Junior National Championships, inspiring younger athletes who could be Olympic hopefuls in coming years.
Doug Beal was one of the spectators down on the cobble-stone beach last week who watched the Olympic-bound surfers take on the big waves that showed up.
Beal is no stranger to the Olympics, competing in volleyball at three Olympic games and serving as head coach in 1977 for the U.S. Men’s National Team, which earned the country’s first-ever gold in men’s volleyball at the 1984 Olympics. In his later years, he was CEO of USA Volleyball.
He was enjoying retirement when he was brought on to help surfing with its debut in the Games, joining USA Surfing as chair of the board.
Beal compares surfing’s inclusion to beach volleyball’s addition in the ’90s.
“It’s hard to describe how much it’s grown,” he said of beach volleyball and the new audience it drew. “I think the International Olympic Committee and US Olympic Committee are looking for opportunities to promote sports like this, which are lifestyle sports.”
He sees San Clemente as the right place to set roots as the Olympic surf town, just as Colorado Springs did years ago. And he sees surfing riding the same wave of popularity as beach volleyball.
“I think it’s going to be hugely popular,” he said. “Enormously popular.”
The USA Surfing folks aren’t just thinking about the upcoming Tokyo Games, but also the longevity of surfing in the Olympics. Already there’s excitement about 2024, when France hosts, with bombing Teahupo’o selected as the venue.
Then, the Olympics come to Los Angeles. While surfing has yet to be announced for those games, the inclusion “seems like a shoo-in,” Swayne said.
There may be a battle on the beach for which surf break would be the best venue: Lower Trestles, considered the best high-performance wave on the mainland, or Huntington Beach, which has the ability to hold an Olympic-sized festival.
“It could be H.B.,” Swayne said. “But we are hoping for Lowers.”
But first, Japan. The team, coach Brett Simpson from Huntington Beach and USA Surfing officials leave in about two weeks for the surfing event that starts on July 25 and runs through Aug. 1.
And the buzz is already starting around San Clemente.
USA Surfing teamed up with Station Craft Brewery, based in nearby Dana Point, to make a special beer for fans to toast during the Olympics, complete with a team image that shows Andino, Marks, Florence and Moore.
Watch parties to cheer on local surfers are already planned for Nomad Cantina and Shoreline Church in San Clemente.
Longtime San Clemente residents are ready to root on the locals and are embracing the city’s push to be part of the historic moment.
Nomad Cantina owner Sean Rowland, who paid out-of-pocket to have a surf mural painted by Lukasik, is a former photographer for the World Surf League who spent two decades documenting pro surfing.
“It’s a special moment not only for the surfers, but the surfing in general. This is the mecca of surfing, you have the best talent coming out of here, especially now,” he said of San Clemente. “We’re so honored to be a part of this. It’s super historic. I’m getting chills just talking about it, it’s pretty rad.”
But still left is figuring out what should be the city’s official surf tagline. The Surf City moniker is already taken by Huntington Beach.
Surf Town, USA has been tossed around. Perhaps USA’s Surfing Olympic City would work, Swayne said.
Whatever the slogan, San Clemente is putting itself on the map with USA Surfing riding the Olympic wave.
“We are so glad, proud and honored to have you in our community and to support you from here on out,” Isaac Camacho, board of directors for the city’s Chamber of Commerce, told USA Surfing reps at the recent mural unveiling. “We are ecstatic, you are a jewel to the community now. And we know soon you will be to the entire nation. Bring home the gold.”
Source: Orange County Register