Cardiff Surf Club Taking Root in Encinitas

April 30, 2010, Judd

Imagine surfing perfect and empty breaks with just your mates, having a bonfire on the beach, freely drinking beer, goofing around without the threat of being booted off the beach by police or lifeguards, strumming guitar or ukulele and sharing stories of surf stoke.

The golden age of surfing has long passed. Thanks to Gidget, the Beach Boys, Beach Blanket Bingoand Hollywood’s surf exploitation, surfing has become a mega-billion dollar industry.

But one relic of surfing’s epic and underground past remains: surf clubs.

Since 1964, the Swami’s Surfing Association has represented Encinitas in the Coalition of Surf Clubs. And as of this year, Encinitas now has its second: the Cardiff Surf Club.

Why the need for a Cardiff club when Swami’s already exists? According to Otis Sistrunk, who was contest director and team captain of the Swami’s Surfing Association (SSA) from 2000 to 2010, the need stems for two reasons.

Many people who surf Cardiff Reef and other breaks in the 92007 zip code rarely surf Swami’s. The other main reason:politics.

Although Sistrunk, a retired Encinitas firefighter of more than 30 years and resident since 1972, declines to mention all the reasons for the bickering that spurred him and other SSA members to break ranks and form a Cardiff club, he does mention the contentious Linda Benson-led attempt two years ago to host awomen’s longboard championship at Swami’s as a major breaking point.

“There was a vote taken and the majority [of the SSA] was for the contest to take place at Swami’s, but the minority who were opposed was very vocal about it and chased a lot of people away,” says Sistrunk, who is now President and team captain of Cardiff Surf Club.

Sistrunk continues, “There was a lot of politics in the background from the people who ran the [SSA] club playing both sides of the fence.”

Personally in favor of allowing Linda Benson to organize a women’s longboard contest at Swami’s — which would have been the first time since the late 1960s that a contest would have taken place there —Sistrunk says of his decision to support Benson, “Linda was the first female to surf Swami’s, she grew up here and was a world champ.”

Although many local surfers feared that allowing Benson’s surf contest would have opened ‘Pandora’s Box’ for other contests, and therefore denying access to Swami’s for the general public for several days a year, Sistrunk says that some members of SSA were disappointed that SSA never had contests at Swami’s, thus the need for a Cardiff Surf Club.

But don’t expect a contest at Cardiff Reef anytime soon, says Sistrunk.

The cost for a state-issued permit for a surf contest: $8,000 per day.

“That’s the primary reason that the Rob Machado and Roxy surf contests stopped running at Cardiff,” says Sistrunk.

“Everyone forgets how much of a huge success for the community the World Pro Open contest at Swami’s in ’67 was,” he continues.

Being able to hold surf contests isn’t the primary goal of forming the Cardiff Surf Club; cleaning the beaches and raising funds for both local charities and installing permanent infrastructure for handicapped surfers are some of the higher goals of the Cardiff Surf Club, according to Sistrunk.

“I was at a surf contest in Hawaii recently and there was a handicapped division. There were mats rolled out for the special-needs surfers, and they had no problem rolling out all the way to the edge of the water.”

Sistrunk would like local businesses to donate to the Cardiff Surf Club in hopes of raising funds to erect a permanent ramp down to the beach for handicapped surfers.

The Cardiff Surf Club recently partnered with Pacific Beach Surf Club in hosting a contest at Tourmaline Beach. Funds raised from entry fees will go to the ramp, says Sistrunk.

Cardiff Surf Club also hosts beach cleanups. The weekend before Labor Day, club members cleaned up fly-infested dead kelp onshore to make the beach more palatable to the community for the holiday weekend.

Surf clubs have expanded beyond the role of frat boy surf parties. The main goal, it would seem of contemporary surf clubs, is to raise environmental awareness and help clean up local beaches.

It’s only a matter of time, it would seem, before an official Leucadia Surf Club sprouts….

Judd Handler is a freelance writer and wellness/lifestyle coach in Encinitas, California. He surfs uncrowded, fun reef breaks; plays instrumental alternate-tuning guitar; goes hiking in the backcountry; and is amazed on a daily basis by just being alive.