Hey All,

Richard Nixon was never far removed from the surfing conversation, in one way or another, during his presidency. Mostly because if you were of fighting age, as the vast majority of surfers were in the 1960s and ’70s, Nixon was viewed as the person responsible for the draft and America’s grinding and ongoing involvement in the Vietnam War. Unless you were 4-F, or in college, or already planning on a long visa-free no-return-ticket wave-hunting adventure in Canada or Europe or Indonesia, Nixon’s “war machine” was a constant low hum in the background, ready to snuff your best-laid surf plans, or worse. Nixon was a huge out-and-proud square, too, the squarest of all, the lowest-hanging square to grab when surfers wanted to highlight their lefty-leaning bona fides. His name came up all the time.

As of early 1969, just after being elected, Nixon was also the new owner of La Casa Pacifica, soon dubbed the Western White House, a beachfront Spanish-style mansion on the bluff overlooking Cotton’s Point—the mansion was in fact built by San Clemente cofounder H. H. Cotton—just north of Trestles. (Cotton was also a major player in Democratic politics, poured money into the state and national party coffers; FDR was a frequent visitor to the Cotton estate in the ’30s and ’40s, and Nixon was petty enough for that fact to stick a bit in his craw, is my guess.)

Richard nixon walks on the beach at Cottons Point, San Clemente
corky carroll surfing at Cotton's Point, San clemente, california

Before Nixon’s arrival, the area’s most famous resident was SURFER founder John Severson, who lived in an elegant glass-fronted midcentury beachfront house—the southernmost lot in a gated community called Cyprus Shore—right next door to La Casa Pacifica.

John had started smoking dope around the time the Nixons arrived, his magazine had just hung a sharp left into the counterculture, and the neighborhood weirdness of these two sharing a property line is perfectly captured in Drew Kampion’s “Florsheims in the Sand,” and I won’t be offended at all if you click over to give Drew your full attention.

Severson’s decision, in 1970, to sell SURFER and leave California altogether, had a lot to do with Nixon moving in. It wasn’t a battle between the two, exactly, but John essentially gave up and bailed for the tropics, and fair enough. But just 18 months earlier he was in a different mood altogether. From a letter dated August 8, 1969—when John was president of the Cyprus Shore Community Association—Severson reached out to the newly elected leader of the Free World, on behalf of surfers and beachgoers of every stripe, to propose a summit. Keep in mind that the Marine Corps base at Camp Pendleton had long ago blocked public beach access (San Onofre Surfing Club excepted) between San Clemente and Oceanside; Nixon’s arrival further bumped up security. “I would like to welcome you and your family to our community,” Severson began, and a paragraph later we come to the business at hand:

I’d like very much to speak with you for a few minutes regarding the surfing, public beach and access problem that faces us in Southern California. Unfortunately, your summer home has intensified the problem, but I believe a solution can be reached without jeopardizing your security. Perhaps this could be accomplished at one of our “down-home” (small and casual) beach barbecues, or Huevos Rancheros beach breakfasts if you have the time and would care to join us.

I hope that your stay [in San Clemente] will be relaxing and enjoyable


John Severson

John Severson and family in San Clemente, 1969.

No response from the President, and between the Secret Service heavies patrolling the grounds next door, and the soft but audible clicks on his home phone line, it wasn’t long before Severson published a discursive four-page resignation letter in the magazine, which included this bit of news: “Steve Pezman will be your new Editor and Publisher, and he has a lot of new ideas, and that’ll be good for SURFER and you.”

This is a bank-shot, yes. But thanks to Nixon, we eventually got the Surfer’s Journal.

Two more quick Presidential takes, except let’s go international.

The Long Beach Surf Club, while in Lima for the 1965 World Championships, was invited to the Government Palace to meet President Fernando Belaúnde, South America’s sad-eyed and hugely popular champion of democracy. Watch here. That’s LBSC president Jim Graham in the powder-blue tux, making the introductions, and doesn’t everyone look amazing in their formal wear? Joyce Hoffman is blond-on-yellow perfection, and while it’s hard to pick a standout among the men—they all look dashing—I like the cut of Bill Fury’s jib (he’s the short fellow in red) and I applaud Rich Harbour, in white dinner jacket, for pivoting away from his Belaúnde handshake to shoot a What Me Worry? look straight into the camera, see below.

Reception at the 1965 world surfing championships. Joyce Hoffman in yellow dress.
Richard Harbour, in white dinner jacket, at 1965 world surfing championships reception, lima, Peru.

Finally, we have ’88 Pipe Master Robbie Page and French President François Mitterrand—no pictures, I’m afraid, so we have to take it on faith—who met at Mitterrand’s home in Jarnac, north of Bordeaux, while Page was dating Mitterrand’s granddaughter. This was only four months after Page was deported from Japan after serving 66 days in prison for a minor drug bust (two hits of acid), effectively spiking his WCT career.

“I actually thought God was playing a joke on me,” Rob later told surf writer Tim Baker. “Here I am on the pro tour loving life, then here I am in jail sitting and crying in a fucking box alone, and I went to France, and met Pascale.”

Baker then adds: “The French President, among the most powerful men in the world at the time, warmed immediately to his granddaughter’s new Australian surfer boyfriend, despite his colorful history and the fact that Robbie was 12 years older than Pascale.”

A gracious but possibly self-serving take by Mitterrand? Read for yourself. Do Frenchmen still get a pass on this, or are they all canceled, socialist icons included?

Thanks for reading, and see you next week!


Richard Nixon, detail from cover of Time Magazine

PS: Back to Nixon for a moment. I’ve always wondered about the exact proximity between La Casa Pacifica and the wave at Cotton’s, and was able to dig up a bit of newsreel footage that answers the question almost to the inch; here is the clip, with some La Casa Pacifica presidential-celebrity party footage added (Imelda Marcos moves up the driveway like a kohl-eyed missile; Mary Tyler Moore is radiant and mischievous), and the incredible version of “One Toke Over the Line” you hear on the soundtrack was featured on a 1971 episode of the Lawrence Welk Show—Nixon, no surprise, was a big Welk fan.

PPS: Composer and 20-time Grammy winner Henry Mancini met briefly with Nixon in 1969, just prior to a White House performance. “What’s your favorite album, Mr. President?” Mancini asked. Nixon walked to a shelf, pulled an LP out and handed it over: Richard Rodgers’ Victory at Sea. “I sit here by the hour and listen to that album,” Nixon said, and is it impossible to imagine that Rodgers’ dramatic arrangement was in the President’s head while on the beach-facing lawn at La Casa Pacifica, in 1968, watching John Severson drop into those big long green walls at Cotton’s? And were those said long green walls perhaps a contributing factor to Nixon becoming, arguably, our most effective environmentalist President?

John Severson surfing Cottons Point, 1969. Photo by Brad Barrett

[Photo grid, clockwise from top left: Robbie Page, photo by Tim McKenna; John Severson, 1969, by Brad Barrett; La Casa Pacifica; Richard Nixon; Brad Barrett at Cotton’s, 1968, by John Severson; Drew Kampion, 1969, by Brad Barrett. Nixon on the beach at Cotton’s. Corky Carroll, Cotton’s, 1969, photo by Art Brewer. Severson and family at their Cyprus Shore home, 1969, photo by Brewer. 1965 Time magazine cover of Fernando Belaúnde, and frame grabs from the Long Beach Surf Club reception at the Presidential Palace in Lima. Nixon cartoon from a 1969 Time magazine cover. Severson at Cotton’s, 1968, by Brad Barrett]