Our previous post highlighted Dana Point’s surprising history of captivating transient people such as settlers, pirates, and Hollywood moguls. To this day, Dana Point continues to draw in those seeking a deep connection to the region’s land, sea, and developing culture.
The high bluffs and hidden coves that initially attracted pirates to the southern California coast also captured the attention of another group of seafarers. Dana Point’s exceptional landscape, paired with powerful southern winds, made for near-perfect surfing conditions. This supreme environment didn’t go unnoticed, and in the early 1930s were frequented by watermen. Now more commonly known as surfers, these watermen sought Dana Point’s beach breaks to ride the large naturally formed waves and engage in other beach activities like fishing, canoeing, and swimming.
For years, pioneering surfers rode what they called “Killer Dana,” a right-breaking wave that rolled in from far out at sea and formed near the rocky coastline. Killer Dana’s southern swells were known to produce some of the largest waves in California surf, sometimes measuring in at 12 feet or higher. Local surfing legends including Lorren “Whitney” Harrison, Peanuts Larson, and Ron Drummond quickly became Dana Point regulars and, on any given day, could be spotted surfing the massive swells.
In 1954, American surfer Hobie Alter opened the first retail surf shop off the Pacific Coast Highway in Dana Point. Alter had been crafting surfboards by hand in his family’s Laguna Beach garage, but his father had grown tired of the constant mess. Right as Hobie completed his 100th handmade surfboard, dad bought him his own space to craft, the Hobie Surf Shop. There were doubts that such a store could be successful, but as Killer Dana gained notoriety, the area became an oasis for surfers from all over the globe. The endless business for Hobie helped grow his brand, and today Hobie remains a leading name for surfboards and other water sports equipment.
Dana Point’s booming surf culture quickly gained widespread attention. Surfers continued to hear about how Killer Dana rivaled the surf in Hawaii. Surfers flocked to the beach, all seeking to stand up against the colossal waves. Dana Point was featured in Bruce Brown’s surfing documentary The Endless Summer and became home to popular surfing publications The Surfer’s Journal and Surfer’s Magazine. The Beach Boys even mention Doheny Beach in their 1963 hit “Surfin’ U.S.A.”
While surfing undoubtedly contributed to Dana Point’s popularity, not everyone found Killer Dana a fundamental landscape feature. In the late 1960s, plans to develop a new harbor along the Dana Point coastline began to unfold. Panicked by the new plans, the surfing community scrambled as they feared the new construction would disturb Killer Dana and any semblance of swell height that brought the beach to its fame. In hopes to preserve their revered surf spot, Ron Drummond presented local officials with an alternative plan that wouldn’t be so detrimental to the natural tides. The city planners mocked Drummond and told him that “surfing vandals” weren’t welcome in the new harbor. Despite Drummond’s attempt to protect the surf, the project moved forward as planned. In August 1971, the harbor was dedicated, featuring a 1.5 miles jetty, over 50 shops and restaurants, and a slip capacity for 2,500 boats.
Just as Drummond and his fellow surfers feared, what came with the harbor was the abrupt end of Killer Dana. The rock jetties that served as breakwaters diminished any opportunity to manifest waves near Killer Dana’s size. The surfing community was heartbroken. To this day, they still hold contempt for the harbor and the destruction of their beloved breaks.
Despite the development of new homes and shops and the addition of a new harbor, Dana Point had still not formally incorporated as a city. Efforts to declare Dana Point as a city began in 1959 after nearby San Juan Capistrano also planned to become recognized as a city. Locals petitioned against incorporation, terminating early aspirations of cityhood. It would take five more attempts, each motivated by fear of annexation and dividing lands. Finally, in 1989 Dana Point became the 28th city in Orange County, California. Dana Point’s first mayor, Judith Curreri, was inaugurated on January 4th, 1989.
Currently, both the city of Dana Point and Dana Point Harbor are undergoing a major revitalization project. The project’s design includes a new marina, two new hotels, and remodeling or replacing all existing retail and restaurant buildings along the harbor. The project will also include new docks, 55,000 square feet of dry boat storage, and expanded parking. This new project is bound to bring even more people to the area, where they will undoubtedly be enamored with all of Dana Point’s unique qualities, known to have drawn people to the area for over 200 years.Plans for the Harbor Revitalization