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 more
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.
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 multitudes who will be volunteering
for this years event. "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
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