It's Good to Be Natural

Free spirit. Struggles. To be free

Nothing says Orange County like a losing struggle to preserve unspoiled nature. So it is that our most revered surf spot—now a battleground over a massive toll road that seems destined to pave over a picturesque campground and an irreplaceable habitat as it rumbles through San Onofre State Beach—has become the literal line in the sand that most effectively defines us. Trestles is the Best of OC, for better or whatever.

It's appalling that the Transportation Corridor Agencies (TCA) is determined to construct a 16-mile connection between the 241 Toll Road and Interstate 5 that would pass through lots of what's left of natural land in Orange County. Appalling, illogical, environmentally ruthless, financially unjustifiable and just plain tragic—but not surprising. The reason there's not much natural land left is that this shit happens all the time. Has for years. How are rich OC developers going to be able to do their personally enriching OC developments without taxpayer-funded roads that get people to the places they want to develop?

It's impressive the way surfers have joined with environmental protection groups to take a stand against the incursion of this unnecessary superhighway into our last remaining pristine coastal watershed. Impressive but also kind of sad, pathetic and opportunistically self-serving. The natural wonders that not so long ago sprawled along the entire OC coastline have shrunk into this small southern corner of the county, and now it's finally time for surfers—and the multibillion-dollar surfing products industry—to take a stand?

Well . . . yeah . . . apparently so. Supportive comments from various industry heavyweights are prominently listed in the Save Trestles section of the Surfrider Foundation website. Typical is this call to action from Richard Woolcott, CEO of Costa Mesa-based Volcom: "It's time that the communities of Orange County and beyond begin to make the environment a priority over growth and development." And this profundity, from Joel Patterson, editor in chief of TransWorld Surf Magazine: "People need to decide what's more important, a toll road or a sacred place where people go to enjoy nature?" Never mind why it's been okay for local surfers to be sickened by dangerously polluted waters all these years without the surfing industry doing much more than throwing itself the annual Waterman's Ball, inevitably held at a luxurious coastal resort that is, itself, an environmental abomination. Looking for a quote? How about this one from Glenn Hening, who helped found the Surfrider Foundation: "The ocean is filthy because the surf industry doesn't need a clean ocean to make a buck."

To emphasize the suddenly sacred importance of prioritizing environmentalism over growth and development, the Save Trestles movement has lately begun to refer to the place as the "Yosemite of Surfing"—you know, because the waves are so naturally excellent . . . and because legendary black-and-white Yosemite photographer Ansel Adams used to longboard there. Just kidding about that last part, of course. Can you imagine fat, old, bearded and bald Ansel Adams trying to surf Trestles? The locals would have kicked the crap out of him! Don't be bringin' your Norcal ass to South County, brah. Too bad about the camera. It was pretty old though, right?

Anyway, where were we? Ummm . . . the great waves. Yeah. Trestles has great waves—world class waves—which are created by a delicate combination of a lot of natural forces, including the natural flow of sediment out of San Mateo Creek and the stones that naturally cover the sea floor beneath the breakers. So, to summarize, this is all very natural. But the massive amount of earth-moving and buttressing that would accompany toll road construction would almost certainly alter the creek's sediment flow, which in turn would almost certainly change the way the waves crash on the underwater rocks, making them probably not so great for surfing, and of course, most importantly, not so natural. And when you take into account the damage to habitat that is critical to the survival of at least seven endangered species, including the southern steelhead trout, even less so. Less natural. That is in terms of nature.

Look, we all know how dedicated surfers are to nature, how their free spirits struggle to be free of the constraints of our artificial society. We can sense it in the carefree way they wear their hair, we hear it in their hardcore music and videos, see it in the unwaveringly casual designs of their clothing—and in the incredible profits of the surfing industry, dominated by companies within whiffing distance of OC's degraded waters. If we still have any doubt, we can ask well-respected Surfer magazine editor Sam George, which we did a few years ago and he told us, "On the whole, surfers are probably the least environmentally concerned faction living along the coast of California, and they get no support in that area from their multibillion dollar industry."

We hope that Trestles can be saved. Its importance to Orange County—historically, environmentally, symbolically—cannot be overstated. Also? It's got world class waves. We hope that the toll road extension can be stopped. The destruction the Transportation Corridor Agencies has already wreaked upon Orange County is pretty much beyond description, too.

But how will we know if Trestles has been saved? What are our standards? If the TCA had come up with a toll road plan that was only going to trash the campground, kill the steelhead trout, scatter the animals and dirty-up the ocean a little—but leave the waves in world class shape—would we even have considered Trestles endangered in the first place? The pollution plaguing our beaches everywhere else in the OC suggests not.

And if Trestles is saved, what are we saving it for?

Inspiration? Is this going to be some sort of natural chapel where we can take a break from the technological world we are erecting everywhere else and draw from the divine plan of plants and birds and rocks and things? If so, what for? Just so we can stock up on the spiritual sustenance we'll need to finish our construction job?

Entertainment? Do we want Trestles to be there because of some sort of tourist attraction mentality, or for bragging rights or because it would mess up the annual televised surfing competition? Delusion? Is conserving this pristine place—even if it isn't exactly pristine anymore—supposed to convince us that we're doing a good job of balancing the Man vs. Nature equation?

The answers to these questions are what make this verdant little corner the best place in Orange County. Because if we're only going to save Trestles and then go on as we have been . . . Well, why bother? Really. Christianitos Rd. and El Camino Real, San Clemente, (949) 492-4872.

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