Skitch Hitchcock and the Rest of the Salt Creek Beach Crew Left Their Mark on the Skateboarding World

A Skitch In Time
That Dogtown stuff is all well and good, but skitch Hitchcock and friends know that OC’s own Salt Creek Beach crew has left its own mark on the skateboarding world

Skateboarders and surfers are a circle-jerking bunch.

Always talking about who did what first, who was the first to that, who was the first to be photographed doing this, doing that.

Skitch Hitchcock, center, with his brother Garrison, left, and friend Dale Smith
John Gilhooley
Skitch Hitchcock, center, with his brother Garrison, left, and friend Dale Smith
Old photos and memorabilia line the wall of Skitch's Laguna Niguel bedroom
John Gilhooley
Old photos and memorabilia line the wall of Skitch's Laguna Niguel bedroom

There was the 30-foot rogue wave, set off by some earthquake in Alaska that Skitch Hitchcock survived only by not actually catching the wave.

“I got scared. And I held onto the board, and I dug my feet into the wave like this,” he says, demonstrating some 40 years later in his Laguna Niguel living room. “I’m doing everything I can to not catch the wave. But I if caught it and stood up, I would have been a hero for 50 years.”

Or there was the time a cop chased him down the then-restricted Salt Creek Beach. Skitch faked remorse, then took off darting toward the ocean, struggling to pull on his wetsuit as he ran. The cop pulled out his gun and waited for three hours.

“And then he went back to eating donuts,” Skitch says, giggling.

Skitch, 57, is sitting around his living room with his brother, Garrison Hitchcock, 54, and best friend Dale Smith, 57. The house belongs to Skitch’s former sister-in-law, who has an obvious penchant for the ocean. A carved wooden sea turtle stands two feet away, bolstering an aquarium of tiny silver fish. The bathroom in the hallway has a grass skirt as a shower curtain and starfish and sand suspended in the resin toilet seat.

The trio brag and share accounts, sounding not too different from circles of old fishermen recalling that one trout they reeled in that was this-fucking-big.

Smith, Garrison and Skitch belong to an elite group of surfer/skaters who claimed Salt Creek as theirs in the 1970s. They’re just one slice of an immensely talented crew who went on to make names for themselves in the burgeoning sport of professional skateboarding, skating for the Hobie team. Skitch pushed standards to experimental levels and blazed at the forefront of the sport with tricks, ramps, trucks and boards, while Smith was the first to set skate routines to music and was the brains behind modern safety equipment as we know it, allowing for greater confidence and bigger, better tricks. Garrison had the first skate car and was among the first Signal Hill competitors—focusing on getting downhill and downhill fast.

There’s just one problem: Most people haven’t heard of a Skitch or Garrison Hitchcock, a Dale Smith, a Mike Weed, a Bob Jarvis, or many of the other bigger names hailing from Salt Creek despite their obvious accomplishments.

Instead, 1970s cutting-edge skateboarding, in the popular consciousness, belongs not to Salt Creek but to Santa Monica—Dogtown, and yes, the Z-boys, or the Zephyr skateboard team. While they boast their own impressive archive of achievements, the flamboyant, long-haired bad-boy antics of Tony Alva, Jay Adams, Stacy Peralta, Jim Muir and others are still riding on the wave of ex post facto success thanks to a $400,000-budget 2001 documentary that was subsequently followed by a full-length motion picture—starring Heath Ledger.

But that pervasive documentary left out the No. 1 skateboarding team in the world at the time: Team Hobie.

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Located just between Laguna Beach and Dana Point sits a not-so-publicized stretch of fine sand along Pacific Coast Highway now overshadowed by the five-diamond monstrosity that is the Ritz-Carlton Laguna Niguel.

“I remember the first time surfing [Salt Creek Beach], 44 years ago,” Skitch Hitchcock says. “The water was so clear, and the bottom looked like it was six inches under your board. There was nothing but garibaldi, lobsters, abalone and stingrays—it was like you were in Marineland. We were kind of spooked to see how much wildlife there was.”

It was a private beach that boasted pristine waves that didn’t welcome just anybody.

“You had to have a pass and live in Monarch Bay or up Crown Valley. We snuck in, and sheriffs and everybody would be chasing us,” Garrison says with a laugh.

Skitch even recalls surfing at the Creek prior to 1968.

“This crusty old goat herder would be there, and he had goats all over the hills,” he reminisces. “He charged a pretty steep entry fee; it was 50 cents a person, so you know, you’d drive down with a carload of four people, and he’d get two bucks. This was back in the early ’60s, when $2 was a 12-pack of beer!”

But the consistency and quality of the waves were the beach’s real attractions.

“Salt Creek has got more power than anything up north until you get to central California. Los Angeles has no waves. This wave [at Salt Creek], it jumps out of very deep, creviced water. In certain spots, the beach is 30 feet deep, so it takes the littlest ripple, and because of our natural valley, the hot air comes down and turns the wind blowing offshore into the face of the wave. A 2-foot day somewhere else will be a 4, 5 or 6 at the Creek,” Skitch says fondly.

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