FESTIVALS & EVENTS : Waves of Nostalgia, Feats of Skill

Rick VanderKnyff is a free-lance writer who contributes regularly to The Times Orange County Edition.

The San Clemente Ocean Festival, beginning Friday at the San Clemente Pier, blends nostalgia for California's '60s surf culture with tests of athletic skill.

An amateur long-board contest opens the three-day event Friday. Contests Saturday include a biathlon (a combined run and swim), a 5K beach run, a one-mile ocean swim, a body board race, a paddleboard race and a 500-meter ocean swim.

Sunday, the California Surf Lifesaving Assn. holds its regional championship, with lifeguards from all over the state competing in such contests as a surf rescue race, a two-mile beach run and an ironman/ironwoman competition that tests a variety of skills. A sand sculpting contest will also be held. A variety of children's contests will be held Saturday and Sunday.

On the nostalgia side of things, live entertainment Saturday and Sunday will focus on music of the '50s and '60s, including an appearance by surf rock group the Chantays. A collection of classic Woodys, meanwhile, will parade onto the pier at 10 a.m. Saturday and stay through the weekend.

Other attractions include children's face painting, a photography contest, an art show, a surf memorabilia exhibit, motorized water ski demonstrations and other events and displays.

"It's a family-oriented thing. There's lots of things to do for kids and lots of athletic events," said Lois Thompson of the Ocean Festival board of directors.

This is the festival's 17th year. "When it started out, it was just a little local event," Thompson said, but in recent years it has drawn as many as 25,000 spectators and participants. This year, the event has been expanded further, Thompson said.

The public athletic contests typically draw about 300 competitors, Thompson said, adding that the surfing contest and the lifeguard competition draw many spectators.

"It's exciting to watch," Thompson said of the lifeguard contest. "They really push themselves to the limit. By the end of the day, they're just crawling on the sand."

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