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Favorite Sun: San Diego Finally Catching On as Spring-Break Hot Spot

Times Staff Writer

David Soares was on the beach, reading “Philosophy: Paradox and Discovery” as he prepared for next week’s exam on the existence of God.

All around him were other students, wearing swimwear as thin as Band-Aids, listening to Def Leppard and growing deaf from the volume.

Tuesday was Day 4 of Spring Break ’89 at South Mission Beach. The wind was brisk, the water a feisty 58 degrees, and no one seemed to care. Soares said he hadn’t yet found God--he looked around just to make sure--but had found scores of “sun worshipers.”

Rising to the Top

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Most of them, including Soares, had come to one conclusion: San Diego, they said, especially South Mission Beach, is now No. 1 on the list of places to flee during the annual spring break, which began with the close of class last Friday.

Palm Springs, the students said, used to be everyone’s favorite hot spot. But beefed-up police action after a riot in 1986 has turned many away. That bottle-throwing melee, which erupted on Good Friday, cost Palm Springs $100,000 in overtime pay for police officers and $40,000 in property damage.

“The Springs,” as the students call it, just hasn’t been the same since, even with Sonny Bono as mayor.

“Now, we’d all rather come to San Diego,” said Soares, a pensive, 21-year-old junior at California State College, Stanislaus, in Turlock. “The police are a lot more mellow here.”

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Soares said spring break is “great, because the timing couldn’t be better. Now’s the time of year when kids are usually getting burned out from too much studying. Even so, you see a lot of people on the beach today studying, like I am. It gives you an opportunity to catch up on your homework. If you didn’t have a break like this, you’d go crazy.”

Frontal Assaults

Of course, going crazy is the charge that confronts college students every year as they prepare for what some consider frontal assaults on beach communities from Mexico to Key West, Fla.

Soares finds it amusing that all of the San Diego State University students he knows are hell-bent on escaping to Florida, while all of the Floridians want to come to California, and everyone else has their pick of either.

Jan Sumners, a 20-year-old junior from Southern Oregon State College, said she and her two girlfriends just came from Palm Springs, where they were cited for what she said was just walking in the street.

“The Springs was really a dreary scene,” said Sumners, flanked by Lisa Preston, a 19-year-old sophomore at Oregon State University, and Kelli York, a 21-year-old junior from Southern Oregon State.

These three headed down from rainy Oregon and found the prevailing opinion to be true: “San Diego,” in Sumner’s view, “is now the alternative to Palm Springs, which is for old folks anyway. I mean, this is really a cool place.

“In Palm Springs, there were three cops on every block. We just got bored there. They’ve really clamped down on the college students, and all we’re trying to do is have a good time. In Palm Springs, you just drive up and down the strip and go to the bars at night. Here, the beaches are great, the cops are few, and Mexico is half an hour away. You can’t beat it.”

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Quiet on Western Front

So far, the influx of students hasn’t created a significant problem for local police.

“It’s not a major problem,” said police spokesman Bill Robinson. He said last weekend “was extremely quiet, surprisingly so. Our officers closed down seven parties, mainly in the South Mission Beach area. But we experienced no resistance problems from beachgoers. We had no major problems and no felony arrests. We do, however, expect many more this weekend.”

A bigger threat may be the ocean itself.

Mission Beach lifeguards Charles Davey, 27, and Matthew Roland, 28, worry not so much about beer drinking--which you can do on area beaches, as long as it’s in a can and not a glass or bottle--but the lack of education that spring-break revelers bring to the water after a winter of inactivity.

“The break isn’t a problem yet, but the potential is always there,” Davey said. “I’m worried about this weekend. The crowds last weekend were the biggest I’ve seen since July 4, and we’re expecting even more Saturday and Sunday.

“The break is rough because of what the crowds don’t know and how ill-equipped they are to handle the cool temperature of the water and the seasonal shape of the ocean floor. The bottom is really torn up right now. Holes are everywhere, worse than usual. Where there are holes there are rip currents, usually pretty nasty ones. You’re constantly keeping an eye on people. Even now, you can see people heading way off out there. Our biggest job is just re-educating people about the water and what it can do. It ain’t easy.”

Chilly Wind No Factor

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On Tuesday, though, none of the beachgoers seemed the least bit fazed by the cooler-than-normal breezes or by the Frigidaire surf temperature.

Scott Etheridge, 20, a freshman at Ventura College, and Jennifer Webb, 19, a sophomore at Moorpark College, drove in over the weekend from the San Fernando Valley. They wanted to go to Mexico but found the sight of San Diego so appealing they pulled off Interstate 5 and checked in at a $50-a-night hotel. After a night of that, they were at a $20-a-night camping village, shivering in a pup tent.

Saying he had made an informal study, Etheridge, a business major, rated the top spring-break getaways as “San Diego, Palm Springs, Daytona Beach, Fla., Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., and Virginia Beach, Va.”

He said cost is a big factor. He and his girlfriend work two jobs besides going to school and just “didn’t have the bucks to go to Florida, which isn’t as nice as San Diego anyway.”

Lisa Preston from Oregon State University said many Oregonians head to Lake Tahoe, Nev., for snow--rather than sun--comfort. Housing is expensive, so she and her friends are staying for free with relatives.

Kelli York from Southern Oregon State College said their chief spring-break ambition can be summarized in a four-letter word:

“G-u-y-s. And we’re trying ,” she added, in a tone of desperation.

A few feet away, Richard Clock, a 19-year-old sophomore at UC San Diego, was scowling for a different reason. An English literature major, he was finding it difficult to free his mind of Dryden, Milton, Wordsworth and Pope.

Literary Void Possible?

“Everywhere I look,” he said of his fellow students, “I wonder if they’ve read the same neo-classic and romantic writers that I have. . . . I wonder if they’ve read at all.”

His friend, Alex Alvarez, 20, and a sophomore at Mesa College, was happy just to be taking in the sun, the sand and the sights--regardless of who reads what.

“You don’t have to get drunk and obnoxious to have a good time,” Alvarez said. “A good time can be just sitting here. It beats the classroom.”

Jann Rouille, 40, from Covina, and her mother, Helen King, 68, from La Mesa, were happy that Tuesday’s crowd was remarkably free of drunk, obnoxious rowdyism, even if the stereos were a bit loud.

“All the talk about how bad it is makes it sound much worse than it is,” King said. “A lot of these kids are studying, with notebooks in hand. I haven’t seen anything unruly or out of the ordinary. And we’re having a wonderful time, not just in spite of these kids but partly because of them. I think we should let them be.”


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