Clemente's Ocean Festival
Story by Bill Thomas
has its Bastille Day; Boston, its Marathon; New York,
its Easter Parade; London, Guy Fawkes. What does San
Clemente have to match these great celebrations? The
Ocean Festival! The next one, time-wise, is right around
Born in 1976 to founding mother Dorothy Fuller, credited
for the Festival's unique title "The Greatest Show
on Surf," the offspring has reached a state of
regal ascent as an extraordinarily popular event. In
that centennial year, the then-local Marine Safety Captain,
Sheridan Bayerly, wanted to use athletic competition
between and among lifeguards to make the public m
aware of the world of lifeguarding. Seeking Fuller's
promotional help, little did Bayerly suspect that his
hope to attract families and tourism to a modest ocean
athletic contest would evolve into the gigantic ocean-oriented
circus taking place July 21 and 22.
Like the changing, frothing, forms waves breaking on
the San Clemente beach, each annual Ocean Festival is
different. This year's celebration offers fun, frolic,
fantasy, festivity, and physical challenge to all age
groups and ability levels. Emphasizing total family
immersion, there's something for everyone, and much
for all. There are athletic events - swimming, racing,
paddling, rowing - for energetic bodies; ocean paintings
and photography for the creativity admirers; Woodies
for the auto enthusiasts; face painting, story listening,
clinics, and water games for children; a beach band
for music lovers; food and drink for the famished; and
for families, sand sculpturing, water frolicking, beach
ball bouncing, people watching, and togetherness. Additionally,
two thousand rubber ducks will be leaving their relatively
safe bathtubs for the race from surf to shore with rewards
for their winning owners.
The history of the Ocean Festival is 25 years of continuous
growth from a small gathering of lifeguards to an event
celebrating the beauty, uniqueness, recreation, and
magnetism of an ocean setting, ocean athletes who challenge
their limits and expand their boundaries, and a family
outing. The many benefactors include not only local
attendees and event participants, tourists, and the
workers who make it happen, but especially the individuals
and organizations receiving the scholarships and grants
provided by the funds raised. It's a giving rather than
taking event. It's become larger in activities and attendance,
even while sand on the beach has diminished.
The athletic competition has expanded from lifeguards
demonstrating physical prowess in their own ocean abilities
and use of life-saving tools to swimmers, runners, paddle-boarders,
and boat-rowers of all ages and professions. In the
early days, star competitors moved upwards to the United
States Lifesaving Association's National Championships.
As the Festival gained popularity, lifeguards came from
as far as Japan and Australia. The best lifeguards in
the world tested their skills in local waters. Later,
the competition included junior lifeguards. Now, Ironman
and Ironwoman competition, swimming, paddling, rowing,
and board and bodysurfing contests attract hundreds
of water sport achievers.
popular Dory Boat Races, 325-pound, fiberglass wood-rail
rescue vessels, with fixed seats and oar locks, fight
waves up to six feet, head to the same markers attempting
to pass one another at every opportunity. The spills,
thrills, and instantly reactive abilities of the athletes
are crowd-pleasers. The Doheny Longboard Surfing Competition
and Tandem Exhibition are described by athletic coordinator
Barrett Tester as "...different, graceful, and
romantic, providing a whole new story on sporting events
involving those who train for and love the ocean."
One reshaped aspect of the Festival is the growing emphasis
on children. Rather than only watch daddy compete, free
clinics are offered in bodyboarding and bodysurfing.
Bring only towels and bathing suits; the rest is supplied.
There's also a fishing derby, and the rock wall will
provide a challenging surface for climbing. Clowns,
face painting, and storytelling are featured in the
children's special pavilion, as well as gallivanting
in the sand.
Over the years, the progressive focus on families has
introduced the Saturday night beach barbeque dinner
with musical groups, sand sculpting, and family games
from Frisbee to football. Beachmaster Dave Peter, officiating
an efficient athletic show over the past 21 years, described
one special Festival Saturday night with his young family
gathered around him watching a gorgeous San Clemente
sunset. "It was like a dream," he reminisced.
His kids, with many other San Clementians, grew up to
become Festival competitors, and now many of them are
helping to run "...the really big show."
"People make a place," said Mike Burke, who
started in l979. From past to present, there has been
a continuous and enthusiastic involvement of people
from the early few to the 300 who will be volunteering
for the 2001 version. "The Festival is people connecting
together. The result is a recognition of how everybody
can work hard together to make a success, be satisfied,
and then turn around and make it happen the next year,"
said Registrar Shiela Martin, who first volunteered
in 1992. Initiators Fuller, Sheridan, and Miki Wolf
were joined by Boyd Ames, and, soon, by Mary Anna Anderson,
who served as secretary, Board member, and president.
Others who added their skills early on and still continue
include former Marine Safety Captain Lynn Hughes, present
Captain Bill Humpreys, food distributor Rick Aron, businessman
Rick Anderson, Jo Ann Perkins, Mike Burke, Bob Novello,
Rod Rodriquez, among numerous other talents whose names
would fill volumes.
Peggy Vance is an example. Arriving from Phoenix seven
years ago, she attended the festival, became a volunteer
the following year, and joined the 20-person Board of
Directors. Now she is the current Executive Director
of the Ocean Festival. Her enthusiasm also centers on
people, especially the many sponsors, the untiring efforts
of willing volunteers, and the family focus. "We
try to keep it (the Festival) where it was, desiring
to maintain its high standards." She was quick
to announce the newest additions, including the "Instant
Replay" concert, the latest Bob Harlow T-shirt
design, and the intent to raise $20,000 in grants and
scholarships. Mary Anna Anderson, currently the volunteer
coordinator, credits helpers with everything from setting
up tables and tents to digging holes for electrical
wiring, adding, "The Festival brings out volunteer
power and family participation."
There have been changes. Fuller and Anderson have seen
many added Festival features subtracted while some have
remained. The pancake breakfasts concocted by San Clemente
lifeguards has remained a winner. Fuller recalls joisting
with pillow-tipped poles from sawhorses. "One fellow
almost knocked off his future father-in-law's head with
a too-tightly, wrapped weapon. I wonder if the wedding
took place." That event was dropped. "We replaced
the Polynesian dancing with Jazzercise thanks to Jeanie
McPhee," she remembered. Fuller also reminisced
about the short-lived chariot races, where two well-muscled
lifeguard teams raced one another, each with a young
woman atop their shoulders. "When one of the riders
broke her leg, we dropped that," she admitted.
She introduced jet skiing, featuring the Wavebusters.
Sand sculpting, first a failure, later prevailed. Judging
rules changed after the turbulence of a passing train
destroyed the head of a sand-sculpted seal. Now judges
appear immediately after a work of art is completed.
Another Fuller-filler was skydiving, apparently a real
crowd pleaser until several descendents landed elsewhere
than the intended targets. Fuller also encouraged short-lived
pre-Festival fundraisers such as D(Dad's)-Day at the
Beach and a huge chess match using four-foot-tall paper
mache' chess pieces. "Unfortunately, it rained,"
she admitted. Remaining in the Festival's agenda are
King Neptune, parking area shuttle buses, ocean racing
of rubber ducks, among many other Fuller legacies.
As to the continuing contribution of each succeeding
set of Ocean Festival Boards of Directors who make the
Festival happen, Fisherman Restaurant Manager Bob Novello,
tenured from 1985, said, "Each Board improves it,
like piling a new log on the ever-burning Festival fire."
© Copyright 2004 South
Coast Magazine. No unauthorized duplication without