Myron Arnold said he knew something was different Thursday morning when he drove down Pacific Coast Highway in Huntington Beach and caught a whiff of manure.
“It wasn’t salty air and it wasn’t suntan lotion,” the 71-year-old mused. “That’s a smell I was more used to when I lived in Chino.”
And so it was that Surf City was transformed into Cow Town, if only for an hour.
Forty cowboys and nine cattle dogs led 100 steers down a 1 1/2 -mile stretch of sand in Huntington Beach at 7 a.m., a time of day usually reserved for surfers and joggers.
The publicity stunt was meant to drum up interest in the Orange County Fair in Costa Mesa and the U.S. Open of Surfing, an annual tournament taking place just south of the city’s historic pier.
Marketing intentions aside, the sights and sounds and smells of a cattle run in a city best known for its legendary surf were just plain odd to many.
No fewer than four news helicopters documented the cattle drive, waking some residents.
Terry Eselun, a 58-year-old surfer, did a double-take when she walked down to the beach for her daily check of the surf conditions.
Eselun said she had lived in town 30 years and was surprised to see livestock hoofing it down the beach. The scene, she said, reminded her of the dairy near her girlhood home.
“It brought the rural back to the urban environment,” she said. “Huntington Beach used to be oil wells, orange groves and even dairies.”
Hundreds of curious spectators followed the cattle drive, viewing the herd from a beachside path on a bluff as the bovine brigade shuffled south toward the pier from the intersection of Goldenwest Street and Pacific Coast Highway.
“We’re the herd following the herd,” said Rick Henn, 48, a mail carrier from Huntington Beach who took the day off to see the cattle with his wife, Beth.
But exactly how surfing and wrangling tie in was lost on many onlookers, including Beth Henn.
“Unless they’re going to put cows on a surfboard, I don’t see the connection,” she admitted.
Doug Lofstrom, one of the drive’s organizers, offered one explanation: “Surfing is an individual sport. Rodeo is too. It’s that rush, that adrenaline, that extremism that you see in both.”
The cowboys, sporting Stetsons, jeans, boots and bandannas, wore wraparound sunglasses and tropical shirts.
One of them, Robert Kidd, a Huntington Beach emigre now living in Rosarito, Mexico, said herding cattle on the beach was an age-old tradition. So much so that his four-member team of wranglers call themselves the Long Board Cowboys.
“This used to be cattle country right here,” he said from atop a mule. “I left Huntington Beach in a Chevy in ’66 and came back on a mule.”
That mule wore a black banner reading, “Never Surf Downstream From the Herd.”
Organizers also took special precautions to make sure no one expecting to build a sandcastle instead happened upon, well, something left behind by the passing herd.
A 10-member group of yellow-vested workers armed with pooper scoopers followed behind the herd, raking, shoveling up and spraying, restoring the sand to its pre-steer condition.
“Someone’s gotta do it,” Reymundo Dominguez said. “I guess this is just our time.”
By 8 a.m., the steers were loaded into a two-tier cattle truck and carted away to rest up. This morning about 10:30, about 300 steers will run through the streets of Costa Mesa, along a 3 1/2 -mile stretch from Fairview Park to the Orange County Fairgrounds.
And then, it’s presumed, the streets and the sands will be cow-free.