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In the Beginning

The first Pacific Beach Surf Club was founded in the summer of 1956 by a group of young surfers from Pacific Beach Junior High School. Its founding president was Bobby Thomas, who would later go on to become Bobby Challenger Thomas, owner of Challenger Surfboards and a huge name in surfboard innovation and manufacturing in the 1960s. Club members would meet at the home of Fred Retman who lived close to Law Street, a favorite club surf break at the time. In 1958 Fred became the Pacific Beach Junior Surfing Champion.

Other illustrious members included Larry Gordon of Gordon and Smith Surfboards, one of the most successful surfboard building companies in the world; Willy Phillips, who would later become the first USA skateboard champion; and Mike Burner, member of the board of directors of the California Surf Museum. The club continued to grow through the late ’50s and early ’60s and was associated with the Pacific Beach Town Council by holding surf meets at the Crystal Pier, dances at area venues and other community services. The 1950s saw the beginning of surfing competition in San Diego and broke ground for future area clubs such as Windansea, Swami’s, Los Olas and the San Diego Surfing Association, whose members lived all over the region. The club went dormant after 1963, but some of its former members became involved in the inter-club council for the Tourmaline Surfing Park Project in 1965, America’s first park officially dedicated to surfing.

The Club Is Reborn

31 years later in October of 1994, a group of P.B. surfers gathered together to share a few beers and discuss the rebirth of the Pacific Beach Surf Club at nearby Hennessey’s Tavern, a favorite watering hole at the time, which has since become The Duck Dive restaurant on Mission Boulevard. It was headed by local surf shop owner Glenn Paculba of Star Surfing Company and included: Torrey (Brown) Palacio, Bob Sommers, Marc D’Spain and Tim Taylor. Glenn would become the reborn club’s first president and held the office six very successful years, while Torrey would become its founding treasurer, and saw that office through three years of expansive growth. Other club officers at the founding were: Harold Reid, 1st Vice President; Tom Connelly, 2nd Vice President; and Mary Helen Ish the first Secretary.

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By early 1995 the club had enrolled 150 members, one of whom was Inge Morton, editor of the club’s newly launched newsletter,   “Lines.” She held the editorship during the six-year tenure of Glenn’s presidency and oversaw the publication of 18 quarterly issues in all, a goldmine of information instrumental in writing this brief history. The club was actively involved from its beginning in good causes such as raising money for the installation of an Emergency Call Box at Tourmaline; the collection of toys during the Christmas season for donations to the local childrens’ hospital; traveling up the coast to Bolsa Chica to stand with other surfers in support of the Surfrider Foundation’s effort to stop action on a housing development there, which would have negatively impacted a local surf break; and organizing a “Christmas Skate for the Handicapped,” benefiting more children in need. Through the years, other organizations the club has embraced and donated time and money to have been the Pacific Beach Library, the San Diego Lifeguard Service, the Muscular Dystrophy Association and WildCoast. It was the Surfrider Foundation that would always receive some kind of yearly donation though as it seemed to best reflect the ideals of the club’s official motto which stated: “Friendship, Good Surf and Clean Water Forever.” 

Local Legends Honored

At an emotional club meeting early in 1995, 13 local surfing legends (photo below) were officially paid tribute with honorary membership in the club. Back row left to right: Ralph Barber, Robert “Black Mack” McClendon, Billie “Goldie” Goldsmith, Don Okey and Larry Gordon. Front row left to right: Skip Frye, William “Hadji” Hein, "Captain" Dan O’Connell and Holly "Papa Smurf" Jones. Unable to attend the meeting and therefore not pictured were Bud Caldwell and Joe Gann. Honored posthumously were Skeeter Malcolm and Doc Blankenship. By the end of 1995, the club’s first full year of existence, it had on its membership roster an incredible 240 members. This dynamism would continue the remainder of the '90s as the club would enjoy the support of both the surf and general communities of Pacific Beach.

The membership had fun too of course. Glenn inaugurated the Polar Bear Surf and Breakfast on January 1st, 1995 and the event took place on that date for several years thereafter at Tourmaline. The session was open to club members and included prospective members as well. “To be honored as a Polar Bear, you just needed to catch one wave with no wet suit and no leash,” said Glenn. The event was open to men and women board surfers, body boarders and body surfers. Polar Bear pins created by Torrey were awarded to successful participants, and a “bear dude” award presented to the person (or persons) who stayed out the longest. Softball games, Thanksgiving Bashes, Rough Water Swims off La Jolla, participation in Pacific Beach's Annual Parade; wherever the club could be involved in community events and raise awareness of its mission of safeguarding the health of the local beaches, its goals were achieved.

Competitions and the Club's Team

What good is a surf club unless it can compete with its rivals up and down the California coast for yearly bragging rights and glory? The Pacific Beach Surf Club has fielded some very competitive surfers over the years, some of whom have gone on to become quite successful in the sport, names such as: Bobby Challenger Thomas, Kevin Connelly, Erik Sommers, Summer Romero, Kassia Meador and Quintin Macklin.

The club’s first foray into inter-club competition came at the Malibu Surfing Association’s Annual Club Classic held September 16-17, 1995. For the new club in the Coalition of Surfing Clubs, they held their own and came away with four trophies, including a 6th place club standing trophy out of a total of 16 overall. In 1996 the club placed 4th overall at the Malibu Boardriders Club 5th Annual Club Invitational. It received 1st place in its division at the Surfrider Foundations 2nd Annual Clean Water Classic held at Rincon, 1998. The end of the year standings for the Coalition of Surfing Clubs has seen Pacific Beach place in at least the top third of the 25 most active clubs. The club has made it as high as 3rd place overall three times: 1999, 2000 and 2012, and as high as 4th place, three times as well: 2001, 2011 and 2013. Following are the club's up and down fortunes in Coalition Tournament competition over the years:

Coalition Standings 1998-2014

  • 1998: 6th
  • 1999: 3rd
  • 2000: 3rd
  • 2001: 4th
  • 2002: 6th
  • 2003: 8th
  • 2004: 7th
  • 2005: 9th
  • 2006: 6th
  • 2007: 8th
  • 2008: 10th
  • 2009: 6th
  • 2010: 5th
  • 2011: 4th
  • 2012: 3rd
  • 2013: 4th
  • 2014: 6th

Noseriding contests were held by the club at Tourmaline ever year from 1995 through 2000. An all womens competition was launched in 1996 which was ambitiously called, the Annual World Famous All-Women's Amateur Surfing Contest. It was held for five consecutive years until the last contest in 2000.

The Annual Summer Longboard Classic

Gordon and Smith Surfboards sponsored an annual longboard contest at Tourmaline from 1989 to 1991. Bobby Challenger took it over in 1992 and produced it through 1998. In 1999 the PB Surf Club took responsibility for running the contest and has produced it there every year since. It is the club’s signature event each year and raises most of the club’s yearly operating expenses, with a sizable amount of the proceeds going to designated charity recipients such as the Muscular Dystrophy Association, the Big Sister League of San Diego, the Surfrider Foundtiona and WildCoast. Usually held the second Saturday in June, it draws a mostly local group of surfers, but has a number of them from the north, come down for the big day. Entrants generally number between 70-90, with the crowd on the beach watching the contest in the hundreds. Ages range from under 10 to over 70. A big draw is due in part to the raffle each year as several surfboards are put into the drawing where a dollar can be turned into a brand new, custom-shaped board. Parking in Tourmaline’s lot is of course a nightmare that day, but all seem to find somewhere to leave their vehicles in the surrounding neighborhoods, much to the chagrin of nearby residents.

Membership Meltdown Drains the Club

In early 2001, a cataclysmic event occurred during the March meeting when more than half of the membership got up and walked out in protest over the direction they felt the club was taking under the leadership if its new president, Richard Alvord. Richard was a Tourmaline regular with what some would say was an abrasive personality. A dispute arose between Richard and the surf team concerning the allocation of club resources, which led to Richard’s removal from office. At the following meeting in April, 1st and 2nd vice presidents, Greg Miller and Don Wright, oversaw the gathering to decide the club’s fate. Greg reluctantly took over as president. Tim Fields took notes and club secretary, Lori “Pearl” Connelly enlisted his help in preparing the minutes. It wasn’t long before Tim was added to the board to act as co-secretary along with Pearl. The remainder of 2001 saw the board trying to heal the wounds the acrimonious March meeting had left in its wake and begin the rebuilding process. Greg Miller did an outstanding job with the help of Pearl, Rebecca and Gary Murphy, Mark Heinze, Glenn Paculba and Tim Fields.

Despite the loss of many members during this time, things were getting done under Greg’s leadership as he put his energies into erecting the information kiosk at Tourmaline. Many said it wouldn’t last very long due to the harsh elements, or worse, vandalism. During the construction phase however, Greg was subjected  to a series of personal attacks and upon its completion, resigned mid-term. The kiosk is still standing today, functioning as it was designed to: provide news and information to members and other local surfers using the park, of upcoming events. The only noticeable wear has come by way of corrosion to its hinges and locks, which are easily replaced when needed. After Greg’s early departure,  Tim Fields took on the presidency and continued the challenge of rebuilding the club’s stature in the community. The previous two presidents had seen their terms ended prematurely and the club was still suffering from major hangover problems. Old members wanted nothing to do with it any longer and younger members, including many on the surf team, were resentful. Hard feelings abounded on all sides. Tim instituted a plan of running the club in a more business-like manner and insisted on keeping minutes and delivering financial reports at every meeting. Building on Greg’s foundation and continuing under Tim’s leadership, the Pacific Beach business community started gaining respect for the club once again and supporting it with sponsorships of club events. Club members aiding Tim during his term were: Ron Greene (whom Tim dubbed “Mr. Pacific Beach Surf Club”), Don Wright, Mark Heinze, Karl Jaedtke, along with Gary and Rebecca Murphy. Rich Walwood, Barney Sullivan and Torrey Brown would join Tim’s board during his 2003 term. During this two-year period, the club gave approximately $5000 to MDA, the designated charity and also partially subsidized the competition team.

Among the events initiated during Tim’s presidency were pre-classic beach barbeques, two shapers’ forums, and a surf shop owners’ forum. John Snead became active in the club at this time and with his help, the club held its first party at the Karl Strauss facility in Rose Canyon, where the surf movie, “Heart” was shown starring Kassia Meador, Prue Jeffries and Cat Slatinsky. This trio was gracious enough to show up at the movie, answer questions and party with the club afterwards. Summer Romero and Mary Bagalso, two of the club’s excellent women surfers, helped convince Kassia to switch her allegiance from the Malibu Surfing Association where she had grown up, to PB and its competition team. Due to their influence, that year the club saw its best women’s team performance ever in Coalition tournament participation. Its members included: Kassia Meador, Summer Romero, Jenn Smith, Mary Bagalso and Belen Connelly among others. In early 2004, a now familiar pattern returned as Tim took his turn on the receiving end of personal attacks and decided not to seek another term. Others would say he had a bit of a control problem and lost the respect of a number of longtime members who felt he wasn’t listening to their concerns. Rich Walwood, who had served on Tim’s board, stepped in and assumed the presidency at this point and continued Tim’s financially sound practices by producing two highly successful contests in 2004 and 2005. It was due to Rich’s business savvy and the help of Derek Lodico and Quintin Macklin that their combined efforts helped produce the most successful contest to date in 2006. This however, would be under the leadership of the next president.

The Comeback Club

In 2006, a fresh face took the helm by the name of Kathy Austin, the club’s first woman to hold the office of president, yet wielding a take-charge, infectious personality. A successful businesswoman in her own right, she assembled a cabinet of officers and board members who would see the rebuilding of the club’s membership and restore its name to prominence once again. Chief among those officers would be “Mr. Pacific Beach Surf Club” Ron Greene, her 1st vice president, who had served the club wearing many different hats in earlier administrations; Torrey Brown would be her 2nd vice president, the club’s founding treasurer from 1994 through 1997; and Glenn Paculba, the founding president, would return to a seat on the board. These three would provide a steadying influence and cohesion with the energetic years of the past, yet optimism for what the club’s promise might hold once again.

It’s during this time that the club would begin publishing a newsletter again, this time called, “Currents.” It would be edited by Richard Steadham (author of this history) and be different from its predecessor by taking advantage of communication technologies ubiquitous by now: the Internet and email. No more printing and mailing expenses need be encumbered by the resurging club, which could now turn its resources to other worthy areas such as surf clinics for surfers of all ages and skill levels, as well as seeing to the comfort of a fellow surfer during her final days of struggle with cancer. 2007 began with relatively new member Jeff Hackert as president, who soon left for L.A. after marrying his longtime sweetheart early in the year. The vacuum was filled by his 1st vice president Torrey Brown, who successfully guided the club for the remainder of his term. Travis Long, the competition team captain for several years, took on the presidency for the years 2008-2009. Pablo Smith, perennial finalist in Coalition Tournaments, guided the club as president in 2010.

Rising superstar, Josh Hall, became president in 2011, and began building the club's membership once again with new programs for surfers of all skill levels to get involved. From a low of less than 10 paid members in 2004 to a growing and thriving membership on the rise again, the club’s newfound commitment to team competition and service to the community has proven to be the winning formula for a successful surf club. There’s always more that can be done, but the club’s potential as an organization for good is limited only by the vision—followed by action—the current leadership of any given year wields.

Of course, this history isn’t finished yet. It will be amended at regular intervals by this author as time goes by and achievements gained. Eventually, it will be taken over by a younger member with new chapters to write and greater achievements to record for a collection of surfers in San Diego called the Pacific Beach Surf Club. —Richard Steadham

Sources: Glenn Paculba, Bobby Challenger Thomas, Ron Greene, Torrey Brown, Tim Fields, Greg Miller, Rich Walwood and the club's first newsletter, Lines, edited by Inge Morton.

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