New-Wave Pet Sounds : Forget the Map Books--Beach Names Are Hung Strictly by the Surfers


There is Poche Beach, sparkling like a sapphire, splashed on the July cover of Esquire magazine. But don’t look for Poche on a map. To cartographers, the popular South County beach--where Dana Point meets San Clemente--doesn’t exist.

The same goes for Blackies, where hundreds of surfers ride waves every winter. Tourists lying on a towel and soaking up the rays may think they are simply on Newport Beach. But Blackies, named after a popular beer bar, has its separate identity. It is among a lineup of Orange County beaches with precise names coined after the surf breaks. The Wedge, the Point and the River Jetty are only a few.

These names have never quite made the quantum leap from surf lore to the Thomas Bros. map books. Map makers rely strictly on official county and city charts, which maintain broad names for long stretches of sand. But over the years, surfers have invented their own pet names to identify gnarly breaks. And when it comes to naming beaches, surfers rule.

Goon Lagoon. Hole-in-the-Fence. The Hole. Toads. Trestles. Dogpatch. Leftovers.


“If you ask a surfer where he went surfing, an abrupt answer like ‘Huntington’ or ‘Newport’ just doesn’t cut it,” said Dana Gibson, 19, an avid Seal Beach surfer and beach hound. “It leaves you hanging. It’s kind of like asking somebody what they did during the day and they answer ‘stuff.’ That doesn’t really tell you anything.”

Sometimes even officialdom borrows the surf jargon. Larry Paul, manager of the harbor and beaches division of the Environmental Management Agency, said his department relies on the surfers’ names because county maps are too general. “These are really the only names people know the beaches by,” Paul said.

Make no mistake: Surfers don’t sit around busting brain cells to come up with creative names for beaches. They have more important things to do--like surf. In most cases, the names merely depict an easily identifiable feature, be it the surf break or a geographical spot.

For example, Poche Beach owes its identity to one of the ubiquitous railroad signs that dot the tracks all over the county. William A. Myers, co-author of the two-volume “Rails Through the Orange Groves,” said Poche (which means “mongrel dog” in Spanish) might have been either a place of geographic significance, a water tank stop or just a marker used for a point of reference. For surfers, the Poche sign became the name of the surf break offshore.


The surfers’ nomenclature spans beaches up and down the Orange County coast. Hole-in-the-Fence in Capistrano Beach owes its name to nothing more than the route most people use to get there. Gravels, a short walk from the Ritz-Carlton Hotel in Dana Point, has a cobblestone bottom.

Doug Craig, a Dana Point resident who has been surfing at San Onofre since 1938, has seen how names become accepted and permanently carved into surfing lore.

Consider the case of Dogpatch, a small beach near the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station. When the San Onofre Surfing Club leased and operated the park in the late 1950s, there were numerous complaints about dogs that ran loose, sometimes biting surfers and stealing food off grills, Craig said. The club later confined dog owners to an area near a patch of wild bamboo in the southern section of the beach.

Lorrin (Whitey) Harrison, one of Southern California’s surfing pioneers, said in some cases the names can outlive their inspiration.

Church, for instance, is a break south of Richard Nixon’s former Western White House. The name dates to the 1930s to a church built for Mexican and Japanese migrant workers on the beach. The church has long been torn down but the name lives on. “We’ve called it Church for so long, there’s no other name for it,” said 79-year-old Harrison, who still surfs regularly.

Then there’s Crabs near Seal Beach. As the name implies, the surfing spot was named after the thousands of tiny crabs that once swarmed a nearby breakwater.

The Hole. Trestles. Killer Capo. Boneyard. Cotton’s. Jim’s Point. Cloudbreak. Mysto. Taco Bell Reef.

Many times the names reflect the skills of surfers who ride the breaks. In surf lingo, goon derisively means beginner, and Goon Lagoon in San Onofre State Park is where novices practice the art, said Moses Paskowitz, whose family runs a surfing camp there.


Old Man’s is self-explanatory. The veterans who began riding redwood boards in the 1930s still commune there.

The younger, more competitive set seeks out the juicier waves, like at Toads south of San Clemente State Beach. An elevator drop over a sandbar can be a near-death encounter. “Toads--take off and die,” Paskowitz explained with a wicked smile.

What’s In a Beach Name?

You won’t find Frankie and Annette here, but Orange County’s 35 miles of coastline have been parceled into a gnarly lineup of nicknames that would even keep Moondoggie happy. Herewith, an insider’s sampling of county beach nicknames:

The Hole--A rare but sometimes epic Sunset Beach break that owes its origin to the Army Corps of Engineers. If a strong south swell follows a spate of dredging, a reef seems to form at the north end, offering a wave that peels off nicely for a long, fast ride.

Dog Beach--A mile stretch north of Golden West Street that looks like all the rest of the beaches between Huntington Beach Pier and Bolsa Chica--except for its dogs. Huntington Beach has designated it as open territory, allowing dogs on the sand.

Blackie’s--Located on the north side of Newport Pier and named for the landmark bar just across the parking lot. It breaks best in winter; in summer, it’s a tourist haven.

Boneyard--There are other “boneyards,” but Doheny State Beach’s northernmost reef might be the most famous. It earned its name because of its shallow, rocky ledge where waves can surge and break sharply. The rocks and spiny sea urchins can be unforgiving.


Toads (Take Off and Die)--Located between Cotton’s Point and San Clemente State Beach, and not for the faint of heart. Waves break only when a large swell rolls in from the west, dumping a steep wall on the shallow sand spit.

Source: Various beach bums and Times staff writers