This is by far the raddest thing to have ever come across, for me. I have whole new respect on where I live, and how surfing big waves started here in my own backyard. All these San Diego surf legends inspire me (especially Bob Simmons) . I knew I was meant to live and surf here ! super stoking .Here it is .take some time and read it , you'll be stoked
1st Crew: Early 1940s
(Looking SW at the northern edge of the damaged boardwalk which was in front of the lifeguard station. Photo courtesy of Ralph Evans)
1st Crew - Early 1940s
Cast of characters to consistently surf the Sloughs in the early 1940s included:
When the 1940s got under way, Kim Daun joined Dempsey, along with Lloyd Baker, Don Okey, Bill "Hadji" Hein and Jack Lounsberry.
According to Kimball [Daun]," John Elwell wrote of one of the Sloughs earliest riders, "surfing was tried again around 1943, when Kimball came back from the merchant marine once. That is when Kimball was swept almost to the Mexican Border."
It ended up being one of the most memorable big days at the Sloughs. It was the Winter of 1943 and the war was still on in a big way. It was the same season that saw the death of Dickie Cross in big waves at Waimea.
"In the winter of '43," recalled Kim Daun, "I was in the Merchant Marine and just come back from a six-month trip. I hadn't been doing any swimming or anything, and I wasn't in the greatest of shape. Dempsey called me and said the surf was up at the Sloughs and wanted to surf with me."
"It was so goddamned big that day. So wicked," declared Bob Goldsmith. "It was one of those days where you could see whitewater forever."
"Dempsey and I went out and the shore break was murder," Kim Daun continued. "Dempsey had a heavy board and my board weighed 90 pounds. We were really a long way off the beach and we managed to get onto a couple of rides. There was a lull, but then Dempsey and I saw it at the same time: the Coronado Islands disappeared behind swells. So we immediately started paddling out like crazy. Dempsey was 100 yards north of me and I was on the south side. The first wave broke and I was over to the shoulder of the first wave and it got Dempsey. From that point on I never saw him again."
"I was trying to make shore," explained Dempsey, "but they were so damned big. I was going like hell trying to get back in there and here's something as big as a house, looked like it was gonna break on me. I turned around and dove as hard as I could to get in the face of it, and not have it break on me. I don't know how long that went on."
"I got over that first wave," continued Kim Daun, "and the second one broke about 15 feet in front of me. That wave took my board like a matchstick. My god, when I saw 15 solid feet of whitewater roaring down on me all I could think was, 'Get underneath it.' I finally came up. I don't know how long that goddamn thing rolled me around. When I came up I was tired. The next wave busted in front of me again, and I went down and I thought I was deep enough and it still got me and rolled me and rolled me. The next goddamn wave broke right in front of me again, and this time I went down to the bottom and it was all eelgrass and rocks. I grabbed two big handfuls of eelgrass and that thing just tore me loose from that."
"The horizons tilted on me a couple of times, and that scared me," continued Dempsey on his account. "The next time I didn't even look around. I just kept going, it broke on me, washed me far up enough so I could dig in. My eyes had dilated and everything was sort of puffy." From Kim Daun's perspective, "Each time these waves came I would swim south as much as I could in the few seconds that I had. The next wave I got far on the shoulder and I swam south."
When Dempsey reached shore, "Bobby Goldsmith shoved my board over to me and said, 'Where's Kimball?' I said, 'I don't know, we got separated. He took off left and I went straight in.'" Dempsey recalled that Daun, "was supposed to be out of shape. I was supposed to be in good shape. I usually didn't get so tired, but when you don't have a wetsuit on, your feet get a little numb, and the eyesight is a little fuzzy. I remember laying across the hood of a car -- a Ford convertible -- trying to get some body heat in. Bobby kept looking for Kimball Daun. Couldn't see him anywhere. Well I said, 'Goddamnit, maybe he drowned. Who do we let know... we're the lifeguards, maybe we let each other know."
"I just kept swimming south," retold Daun. "I was on the beach and they didn't see me. I came in south of the Tijuana River. I was freezing. I started walking on the beach and they didn't see me until I got to the mouth of the river."
"We waited there on the beach for Kimball," remembered Bob "Goldie" Goldsmith. "I hadn't been worried about Dempsey... old Ironman. I knew he'd make it. We were concerned for Kimball."
"I think I was as close to dying as I ever was in my life that day," admitted Kim Daun.
"During those days," concluded Bob Goldsmith, "it was every man for himself."
Dempsey Holder, "Dean of The Sloughs"
"Dempsey was just unbelievable," recalled John Blankenship, one of the early Slough riders. "There wasn't anybody else for sheer guts. He was the ultimate big wave rider. No fancy moves; he caught the biggest waves and went surfing. The closest guy to Dempsey was Gard Chapin [Miki Dora's stepfather], although Gard never tackled waves as big as Dempsey."
"He'd take off even if he had a twenty percent chance of making it," remembered Buddy Hull.
"Dempsey would take off on anything, always deeper than he should have." Woody Ekstrom agreed. "I remember him saying, 'If you make every wave you're not calling it close enough.'"
"Dempsey was as strong as an ox," Bob "Black Mac" McClendon said, "and he had the guts to go along with it. There wasn't anything he wouldn't try."
"I think maybe he was a little masochistic," declared Don Okey, "he liked to get wiped out."
"Our Golden Opportunity"
"Dempsey called Towney in the early morning," John Blankenship recalled of a particularly memorable surf session at the Sloughs, "and he [Towney] could hear the roar of the surf in the background."
"Towney had gone over the depth charts," Dempsey said, "and called me up and told me the bottom out there really looks good. I said, 'Well, I told you about it.' And he said, 'You let me know when it comes up.'"
"Towney comes up," added Woody Ekstrom, "and comes out and tells me, 'Hey Woody, you know that Sloughs is the biggest thing I've ever seen on the coast here. It's the biggest stuff I've ever seen. Dempsey is gonna give us a call when the surf comes up.'"
"About a week later it came up," continued Dempsey. "I called Towney and he came down and got a lot of waves. The next day he came back and brought a kid from La Jolla named Woody Ekstrom."
"Dempsey called and was real grave," added Woody Ekstrom, "and said to Towney, 'I think it's gonna be our golden opportunity.' Towney looked at me and grinned from ear to ear."
I asked Woody what was so funny.
"Dempsey would say, 'I think it's our golden opportunity,'" Woody repeated and laughed at the memory. "It was colder 'n hell and he said that and Towney looked at me and said, 'Well, Woody, what do you think of that? Our "golden opportunity"!' And, God, we were freezing!"
A Tailblock In Each Hand
"Dempsey was an ironman," declared Bob "Goldie" Goldsmith, "He was out there pushing through the biggest, goddamnest shit. He was fearless and brave and he had the guts. He took off on anything and could push through anything, in any kind of surf."
"There was one time when Woody Ekstrom lost his board," John Blankenship gave as an example. "Well Dempsey grabbed his own board and Woody's and punched through the surf."
"We didn't have leashes," Woody reminded me in that gravel voice he has. "So, if you lost your board, that ended your surfing that day because the swim's too far. By the time you got to the beach, due to the water temperature in that area - it's usually low [in the winter]; 50-55 [degrees F] - by the time you got to the beach, that was the end of your surfing" that day.
"One time I lost my board," Woody said of the time Blankenship had mentioned, "and Dempsey had caught it inside... He got hold of my board by the tailblock. He had my board plus his. A board in each hand, shoving through these walls [noses first]."
"He had a tailblock in each hand," added Woody, "shoving through the soup." "We were blown away," Blankenship attested. "Nobody had ever seen anyone ever do that before. We had enough trouble punching our own boards through the soup."
After The War
"Beginning in the 1940s," wrote Serge Dedina in his excellent 1994 article on the Sloughs for what was then called The Longboard Quarterly (now Longboard magazine), "when north swells closed out the coast, surfers from all over Southern California made the journey to a remote and desolate beach within spitting distance of the Mexican border. Before the Malibu, San Onofre, and Windansea gangs surfed Makaha and the North Shore, they experienced the thrill and fear of big waves at the Sloughs."
Even so, the surfers to regularly surf the Sloughs were few in number. While word of the size of the winter surf at the Sloughs grew as time went on, visitors from outside were never large in number. They came from a select group of Southern California's best watermen - guys like Ron Drummond and Whitey Harrison.
"Back in the early 40s I surfed the Sloughs when it was huge," retold Lorrin "Whitey" Harrison. "It was all you could do to get out. Really big. We were way the hell out. Canoe Drummond came down."
"We paddled out and the surf was probably about 20 feet high or so," remembered Ron "Canoe" Drummond. "I looked out about a mile were some tremendously big waves breaking. I asked if anybody wanted to go out there with me, but nobody did. So I went in my canoe and paddled out there. I set my sights in the U.S. and in Mexico, and figured out where I wanted to be. One of the biggest sets came through and I caught a wave that was bigger than most. I rode down it when it closed over me. I was caught in the tunnel. Well I rode near 100 feet in the tunnel and just barely made it out. If that wave would have collapsed on me, it would have killed me."
2nd Crew - Later 1940s
(Looking north from in front of the lifeguard station. The boardwalk ran north to the south end of the "seawall". Photo courtesy of Ralph Evans)
2nd Sloughs Crew - Later 1940s
"They'd get the phone call late at night, 'Surf's up,'" wrote Serge Dedina. "The next day they'd show up at the County lifeguard station at the end of Palm Avenue in Imperial Beach. Dempsey Holder, a tall and wiry lifeguard raised in the plains of West Texas, and the acknowledged 'Dean of the Sloughs,' would greet them with a big smile. For Dempsey, the phone calls meant the difference between surfing alone or in the company of the greatest watermen on the coast."
"He would call up -" Woody told me. "I don't think he could get a hold of me, but he could get a hold of... Towney Cromwell. Towney would [then] call me up and say, 'Dempsey called and he says it's humpin'. Do you wanna go down? Let's go!'
"What year was this?" I asked Woody, who's a really neat guy in his own right.
"1946, 'cause I remember guys were on 52-20, after the war, you know. The war's over and all these guys - GI's - collecting 52-20. Even my brother was in on that.
"Towney and I would get in Towney's '35 Ford coupe - trunk shoved with boards. We'd go down there [Imperial Beach] and meet Dempsey at the Sloughs itself. We'd get on our suits - we had wool bathing suits; like Navy 'bun huggers' we used to call them. We'd put on our black wool suits and... it was really cold, as I remember! Pretty cold. But, the main thing was we had to get out there before the wind came up. Once the wind comes up - and it blows through Imperial Beach quite a bit - by 11 o'clock, you're completely blown out."
As time went on and more surfers joined the group, the scenario would go like Serge Dedina describes here:
"Boards were quickly loaded in Dempsey's Sloughmobile, a stripped down '27 Chevy prototype dune buggy that contained a rack for boards and a seat for Dempsey. Everyone else hung on anxiously as they made their way through the sand dunes and nervously eyed the whitewater that hid winter waves that never closed out. The bigger the swell, the farther out it broke. It was not uncommon for surfers to find themselves wondering what the hell they were doing a mile from shore, scanning the horizon for the next set, praying they wouldn't be caught inside, lose their boards, and have to swim in.
"If you liked big waves and were a real waterman," Dedina summed up, "... you'd paddle out with Dempsey. No one held it against you if you stayed on the shore. Some guys surfed big waves. Others didn't. It was that simple."
"The biggest wave I ever rode out there was in the 40s," said Dempsey. "I caught one on the outside with that big old board I had. The only reason I took off on the thing [was] because it looked like there was something else that was gonna break on me behind it. Just barely made it, and before I got to the end, it actually broke over me. I got on the shoulder and straightened it out. Got down and made one paddle and got in the backoff area. I swear there was one of those big old waves that was as big as the one I'd taken off on. I was scared to death (laughs). I got far enough out on the end, cut back, got underneath the soup, and rode it till waist-deep water and went into the beach."
Big Wave Testimonials
Word continued to spread about the Sloughs, but it was hard to compare to, outside the Islands.
"I had told the guys up north about the surf down here," Dempsey said. "They were asking about it. One day I stopped at Dana Point on my way back from L.A. with a load of balsa wood. It was the biggest surf they had there in six years. They wanted me to compare it, and I told them, 'Well, the backside of the [Slough] waves were bigger than... the frontsides [of the Dana Point waves]."
Jim "Burrhead" Drever initial introduction to the Sloughs was not untypical for a good number of Southern California's best surfers. He recalled, "One time about 1947, I was sleeping in my '39 convertible right on the beach at Windansea, and I heard these guys pounding on the car. I'd heard about the Sloughs and they were going, so I followed them. It was pretty damn big. This was before I went over to the Islands and I'd never seen waves that big around here."
"After the Sloughs," remarked John Blankenship, the biggest waves at the Cove didn't seem so big."
"We went out there in the goddamnest stuff," remembered Bob Goldsmith. "Big stuff -- that would scare the hell out of us. The soup was so big that we would roll over, drive into it with the board, and get thrown around like it was nothing."
"The bigger the better," added Buddy Hull.
"When you're out there you take a different perspective," said Bob Goldsmith, "because you couldn't rely on anyone else. You're on your own. Sometimes it was just big, cold, and miserable. When it was big we'd say 'Come on down and hit it.' But since it would happen in the mornings, me and Dempsey would be down there alone."
"I got a board I built for the Sloughs that today sits in the Hobie shop in Dana Point," reminisced Burrhead. "It weighs about 120 pounds. I put handles on that board figuring I could get out through the shore break better. I'd launch it and try to get it moving real fast. If I could get my feet on the bottom and give it a big shove and then hang on, the weight of the board would start [it] going through the waves. You could hang on to the tail, and the board was too heavy to get picked up by the soup. It drew like a drag anchor."
"The only reason we made turns," explained Chuck Quinn, "was to get an angle and make the wave. Our goal was to ride the biggest waves that were available on the coast."
"When the winter storms came in," said Bill Hadj Hein, "well, people knowing what it was like down there, the first thing they talked about was, 'Let's go down to the Sloughs.'"
Bill "Hadji" Hein again: "Huge, very huge, and dangerous. Way out to sea. Long paddle. Those were dangerous waves. They were thrill rides. You needed a heavy board. There weren't very many guys that liked to go down there."
Skeeter Malcolm: "All of a sudden there was nothing and then there were these giant waves."
Buddy Hull: "There was virtually no landmark. You really had to be in the right place or you missed it."
Jack "Woody" Ekstrom: "It was always hard to know where to grab the waves. When the sets came, it was really awesome. You didn't know how far out the next one was gonna break. You never were able to see it until you got up to the top."
The connection the Tijuana Sloughs had with the Hawaiian Islands was its size. "The thing about the Sloughs," said Burrhead, "was it was so damned big. That's the reason we went out there. The big deal was trying to catch those big waves.
"During the 40s and 50s the Sloughs was the closest thing to the Islands. It catches deep water waves that come down the California coast. It's pretty powerful because it hits on a finger reef that's pretty far out and it doesn't lose a lot of energy."
"The hardest thing is to be caught inside," explained Dempsey. "A big set come in you know the outside is gonna break and its gonna take your board."
"One time Dempsey and I were paddling out and got over the top," recalled Woody Ekstrom, "and here comes Towney off a real WALL, going right - they were rights. The only thing that was good about it [besides the thrill of the ride] was there was always a channel out there, once you got out through the shore break."
"In fact," Woody went on, "the way I got out was to go into the soup... and out behind the shore break. Because, if you went south [at the start], the shore break was so big, you'd never make it out.
"You'd just punch through and look south and see you're outside of the shore break, then you'd cut out south and out - toward Mexico."
"I can remember when the walls were so big," Woody said emphatically, "that your heart would go to your mouth. You'd come up over the top and see these monsters. You'd get over the first one - and, you didn't think you could make it over it, but you did."
"I remember one time, down inside [between two big set waves], one of the surfers let out a war hoop - a yell - and it echoed off the wall!"
"Not having a wetsuit and not having a leash - you had to make all the right moves."
"It was cold and we didn't have any wetsuits," repeated Burrhead. "If you lost your board it was a big problem. It took you a long time to get in."
"By the time you got to the beach you just hung it up and shivered for about an hour," added Woody.
Fog A Mile Out
Another problem was when the fog got thick.
"I remember being out there with Dempsey in the fog," Woody told me, "and we would hear this funny noise, like the top coming off a wave or something and Dempsey'd say, 'What's that?!'" Woody laughed at the memory. "So, you couldn't even see too good [sometimes]. Of course, the fog means its glassy [so there was a trade-off]."
"We had good times together," Woody reminisced. "Cromwell went to Hawai'i when Dempsey was a ham operator. So, when his wife wanted to speak to her husband in Hawai'i, she'd drive clear down to Imperial Beach from La Jolla and talk to Towney, in Hawai'i, through Dempsey's ham radio. Dempsey had the ham operating set-up right in the lifeguard station; about 1948-49.
"Towney and I were just like brothers," Woody said. "Of course, so was Blankenship.
"He [Towney] got killed June 2nd 1958," Woody knew the date by heart. "I remember it [the day] real well. One of the saddest days of my life... I still miss Towney..." Woody said quietly, with visible and intense emotion.
"How long did you surf the Sloughs?" I asked Woody, trying to divert some of Woody's sadder memories.
"I surfed it until about the early '50s. In the early '50s, I had to go into the army - in '52; got out in '54."
Visiting surfers to the Sloughs, during the 1940s, also included: Gard Chapin, Peter Cole, Richard Davis, Bill "Hadji" Hein, Matt Kivlin, Jack Lounsberry, Harry "Buck" Miller, Skeeter Malcolm, Preston "Pete" Peterson, Joe Quigg, Dave Rochlen and Tommy Zahn.
Jim "Lathers paddled out," John Elwell told me, "but was never considered a surfer. Okey, Hadji, Lounsberry only surfed it a few times in the 40's on planks, like Lloyd Baker. Baker, Okey, and Cromwell were the better surfers. They were not seen in the late 40's and there after. Cromwell was killed in a plane crash in Mexico. Baker went into business and tennis. Okey went to CAL Berkeley."
Simmons' "Latest Machine," Christmas Time 1949
Jim "Burrhead" Drever addressed the big wave riding of the Father of the Modern Surfboard, Bob Simmons:
"I used to say to Bob Simmons, 'You're making a big mistake up here [probably San Onofre]. You should go down to the Sloughs -- they're bigger waves.' He would never believe me. Finally he went down there and he met Dempsey [Holder, the main man at the Sloughs] and he hung out down there."
Chuck Quinn recalled Simmons surfing the Sloughs in December of '49, for me, during the 1999 Surfhenge ceremonies:
"[It was] My first day out in big surf," Chuck Quinn began. "I'd come down here the December before. I borrowed a board from the lifeguards at North Island Naval Air Station [and] ... paddled out [at The Sloughs]; the first time I ever rode a wave on a reef that was breaking [that far] out; first time on a reef made of stones; Summer of 1948.
"There's a south swell break at the Sloughs. It's a good little break and it was good for me, because I'd been riding sand busters at the North Island Airstation with a 12-foot Tom Blake hollow surfboard. I could hardly ever get a ride because it would pearl every time I took off. So, when I got down here [The Tijuana Sloughs], the waves had shoulders on them, cuz there's a reef underneath it. I got a wave; a couple of waves."
"Then," Chuck continued, "I bought a board the next summer  over at Windansea... I rode some waves over at Windansea; over 10-feet, with my new board. Time to go to school. I went up to Villanova Prep School in Ojai. I came down at Christmas, for Christmas vacation. I could see, as I was riding the train down the coast, that the waves were huge. I knew, from what the guys had told me, that this [The Sloughs] was a winter surf place; that Tijuana Sloughs had tremendous waves that broke way out in the ocean on the north swell.
"So, I came down here in the very afternoon I got back to Coronado. I borrowed my mother's car and drove down here. When I got to the corner, there, at Palm Avenue, I saw the lifeguard station. I saw a surfboard laying against the building. I parked my car; took a look at it. It was between 12 and 13 feet long; solid redwood. It had a balsa wood kneeling patch in the center of it, a round nose and round tail, and it had a skeg on it. So, I knew it was a surfboard [as opposed to a paddleboard or rescue board]. I figured it belonged to one of the lifeguards."
"I drove down the Slough road and took a walk down to the pipe - there was a corrogated iron pipe. That's where I'd surfed the summer before. And, as I turned and started back - it was low tide - I could see the waves breaking way out on the horizon... but, it was afternoon. The sun was getting low. The wind had been blowing all day and it was very, very choppy out there. I couldn't tell, from the beach, if they were waves that were rideable or not.
"I was coming back to where I'd parked, at the end of the road. I was walking along the beach and there was a single figure coming toward me." Chuck looked at me with intensity. "There's just something about a waterman. If you grow up around the water, you can see it in a guy. You know. You know he's a waterman just by the way he walks on the beach. So... we saw each other, about 200-yards apart. We walked right up to each other; nobody else on the beach; huge waves breaking way out on the horizon.
"So, I said, 'Are you a lifeguard?'
"He said, 'Yeah, I'm a lifeguard up at the county lifeguard station at the foot of Palm Avenue.'
"'Is that your surfboard laying against the station?"
"'Yep, it is.'
"'Are these waves rideable? They're breaking so far out, I can't tell whether they're the kind of waves you can ride on a surfboard.'
"'Oh, yeah! We have to ride in the morning, down here. It's gotta be low tide. In fact, tomorrow morning, a group of us are going to go out. Do you have a board?'
"'Yeah, I do.'
"'Well, you're welcome to join us.'
"So," Chuck went on with his tale, "I hardly slept that night. I put my board on my mother's car, drove back down here from Coronado. When I arrived, there were guys - there were 3 or 4 guys from San Onofre and 3 or 4 guys from Windansea: Woody Eckstrom, John Blankenship, Don Okey (I think was the group) and Buddy Hull; guys that I didn't yet know. I came to know them later on, but they were guys that I looked up to.
"There was a strata. Surfing was stratified; very elite group. I surfed for a whole year at Windansea before any of those guys talked to me. Finally, one day after surfing there for a year, one of the guys said, 'Nice ride, kid.' So, when I saw those guys down here [at The Sloughs], all of a sudden I was a little rookie. In '49, I was 16 years old and these guys were the established surfers on the [south] coast..."
Chuck had also gone up to San O. "John Elwell and I went up to San Onofre in '49, in the summer, with Lee Thompkins, who was head of the lifeguard service in Coronado. So, I knew who these guys were, but I didn't know them personally."
"So, Dempsey right away came over to me, to make me feel at home. He said, 'Put your board on that truck over there.' He had made a kind of beach wagon. It was just a flatbed with an engine on it. It had a bucket seat that he sat in and he'd made the flat bed out of 2-by-4's and driftwood that he'd picked-up. The purpose of that truck was to haul boards down to the Sloughs."
"Those boards were heavy. They were solid, except for a few hollow boards like the Tom Blake board that I'd borrowed from the North Island Air Station. The boards were solid; either balsa and redwood or, like Dempsey's, was solid redwood. They were heavy. Once he said you could put your board there, I knew I wouldn't have to carry it over those sand dunes at the end of the Slough road."
"So, I just hung close to Dempsey and I listened to him. He was talking to the guys from Onofre and he told 'em, he said: 'A guy came down here early this morning and asked directions to the Tijuana Sloughs. He was driving an old Ford. He had a board on top of it.' He says, "I think it was a Malibu Chip.' We didn't know much about the light boards [that were just coming out for the first time, at the hands of Bob Simmons], except from what we'd heard - heard guys talking about 'em. There wasn't the mobility that there is, now. Guys didn't travel up and down the coast like they do, now. So, we didn't know who this guy was. Dempsey didn't know who he was. He just said he'd asked directions to the Sloughs."
"So... we got in the Sloughmobile... down to the end of the dirt road, down there by Conrad's shack... We had to wait until the offshore breeze stopped. There's always an offshore breeze in the winter, blowing off of the Sloughs, out to sea. We didn't have wetsuits and the offshore breeze would make us cold. So, we would wait until the offshore stopped. Soon as the offshore stopped, the ocean was glassy; no wind. And that's when we went out. That would be around 7:30-8:00 o'clock.
"So, Dempsey... told us that he had taken, in the dory, a large bouy - a steel bouy - that had washed up on the beach. It had broken away from its mooring. He painted it white, fastened with a cable to a V-8 engine block used as an anchor. He rode it out to what he thought was the outside reef.
"The problem with surfing the Sloughs was that it breaks so far out in the ocean, when it's big, that it's very hard to tell where the next wave is going to break. So, the line-ups are difficult. It's hard to get situated in the right place. And there's always the possibility of getting caught inside and these big waves would take our boards all the way into the beach. There were no leashes on surfboards in those days. If you lost your board, you swam into the beach to get it. That meant you were frozen. That was the end of your surfing [that day], because [after] the swim in from the outside reef of the Sloughs, you were too cold to be able to surf any more."
"So, anyway," Chuck Quinn continued, "Dempsey said, 'There's a bouy out there, but I can't see it.' By that time, we were waxing our boards and getting ready to go out. All the time, Dempsey was looking and he said, 'I don't know where that guy is.' We saw his car and we saw there were ropes for hanging [a board], on either side of the car... his board wasn't on his car. We couldn't see him. It's such a big scale - the waves were stacked-up between the beach, the shoreline, and the outside reef; about a mile.
"So, Dempsey took us down by the corrugated iron pipe and he told us, he said, 'You have to wait for a lull. We have to time the shorebreak.' The shorebreak is the last energy that's in the wave. It gathers up what little steam it has, after coming across that huge reef, and it breaks in very shallow water. It breaks very, very hard. The shorebreak, in the wintertime down here in big surf, is over 10 feet. So, you have to time it. They're hard waves, breaking top-to-bottom and they're breaking in shallow water, maybe 4-5-6-7 feet deep. Bad situation for those heavy boards. So, you wait and you wait and you wait. When you think there's a lull, you grab your board and run and paddle as hard as you can to get out the shorebreak. When you get out to the shorebreak, then there was a channel on the south end of it and you had clear paddling from there on."
"So, our whole group got out to the shorebreak. They were all good surfers. We got out to the outside and still never saw a surfer and we never saw the bouy. So, Dempsey said, 'I don't know where the bouy is and I don't know where that guy is, but I think we're out on the outside reef.'
"Sets were about 15-to-20 waves in a set and there was a long time between sets; maybe a half hour. Other waves would come through, but they weren't the big, big waves... So, we paddled over and we were waiting in a group. Then, Dempsey saw big waves way, way out; way out beyond where we were. We thought we were out on the outside reef, but we weren't out far enough. So, he told us, he said, 'Paddle south and paddle out!' So, we all started paddling as hard as we could. These waves [coming] had whole, long crestlines on them. You could see that they were coming. They were like marching soldiers, like an army."
"So, as hard as we paddled, we just barely got over the first wave and barely got over the second wave. Third wave broke and took half the group. They lost their boards. That wave took their boards all the way into the beach. On about the 8th or 10th wave - as we were struggling to get out, pushing through the surf and holding on to our boards as hard as we could - all of a sudden, we could see there was a lone rider coming across this huge wave; probably a 25-foot wave. Then he rode across in front of us and we got through that wave. We finally got out and regrouped.
"Dempsey apologized. He said, 'I thought we were out far enough. But we weren't. You never know, down here.' It's a very gradual reef. The reef was formed by the flooding of the Tijuana River and it spread an aluvial fan of river stones out in a great arc, from the mouth of the river. And the mouth of the river constantly changes, cuz it would get dammed up by the big waves and then the water would build up in the Tijuana River and form the Tijuana Sloughs. So, when it got high enough to go over the dam, it would all rush out again. But, it didn't always go out in the same place. It's a wild beast down here. It's a wonderful, wild place."
"So, when we regrouped - those of us that were left --" Gunker told me, "a set came and we all got some rides and paddled back out again. By that time, this guy - this lone rider - came paddling back out. And he paddled right through our group, without looking up, without saying anything. He went out beyond where we were; about another [40 feet]... Then, he stopped and started looking out to sea.
"I was going to school north of Los Angeles and I knew some of the guys from LA and I'd heard about these 'Malibu Chips.' They called 'em chips 'cause they were shaped like potato chips; front end was turned up, back end was turned down. That was Simmons' innovation. So, I paddled over to him and I said, 'Say, is that a Simmons board?' And he looked at me with utter disdain. He said, 'My name is Simmons and this is my latest machine.' Then, he shifted his gaze out to sea."
"We all rode a couple more waves," Chuck recalled, then, "we regrouped on the beach. You're all very cold when you come out of the water. No wetsuits. We used to get these 100% wool swimsuits - the old fashioned kind - that had tops like underwear. They had double-thickness. They were made out of wool. Some of them were Navy issue. They said 'USN' on them. You had a double-thickness over your lower thorax. It's dark color, either navy blue or black and that would absorb the radiation from the sun and you'd get a certain amount of warmth from that. Wool provides heat, even though it's wet. That's one of the reasons why people wore swimming suits like that in the early part of the century. We could get them at Goodwill or Salvation Army. We'd look for 'em. That was the standard swimsuit at the Tijuana Sloughs: old fashioned swimming suits made out of wool, that gave off a little bit of warmth."
"So, here's what happened," Chuck continued. "We got back up to the lifeguard station. Simmons was there. He wasn't a talkative guy at all. But, he and Dempsey started a conversation. He said that he'd been coming down the coast and he'd surfed out at the end of Point Loma by himself; way, way out in the ocean. And, he'd heard about the Sloughs and wanted to try it. He was stoked. He was really stoked. Eckstrom and Blankenship and Buddy Hull and the guys [from Windansea] and the guys from San Onofre - Jim 'Burrhead' Drever and a couple of other guys - we were all stoked. It had been a wonderful experience [that day].
"We were sitting there on the south side of the lifeguard station, absorbing the sun's reflection off the white paint of the lifeguard station. By that time, the wind had come up. There's a little bit of a lee, there, from the wind. We talked. Simmons and Dempsey became friends at that moment."
After this, "Simmons used to show up at Windansea," recalled John Blankenship, "and tell everyone, 'If you guys had any guts you'd be out with us at the Sloughs.'"