In 1981 I interviewed Michael McCreary, owner of Miramar Surfboards, then the only surf shop in Half Moon Bay. Miramar Surfboards was located along Highway 1.
At the time Michael had surfed for 17 of his 33 years.
June: What is it about surfing that gets people hooked?
McCreary: People enjoy surfing because it’s a natural sport. There’s no engine,no sail, no ski-lift. Just you and the surfboard. Another thing that attracts people to surfing is that surfing conditions arealways changing.There are so many variables. It’s always different.
June: When can you catch the best waves around Half Moon Bay?
McCreary: Half Moon Bay is really good between September and March. The reason waves are good in the fall is because we get off-shore winds from the east. East winds made ideal surfing conditions.
Not Mike McCreary (but I sure would like a pix of him) but Jim Rafferty, a former Woodside resident, who spent a lot of him time on the Coastside surfing at El Granada Beach, seen here. Twenty, thirty years ago hardly anybody came out to El Granada to surf. You could even cross Highway 1 on foot without running to avoid being crushed by a car because hardly anybody knew of the place called El Granada.
June: Tell me where I can surf around here.
McCreary:There are several spots at Half Moon Bay for both beginning and advanced surfers. Surfer’s Beach, south of the Pillar Point Breakwater, is considered ideal for beginning and intermediate surfers. It’s a small spot sheltered fromthe ocean. The swell wraps around Pillar Point, and loses some of its strength breakingup on the reef off Half Moon Bay. There’s not too many dangerous currents. You can surfall year ’round at Surfer’s Beach because prevailing winds come from the northwest.
June: Where else?
McCreary: More advanced surfers prefer Venice Street, Kelly Street and Dunes Beach between Kelly and Venice. Ideal waves reach six to eight feet in the more advanced surfing spots.
June: And the biggest waves you remember?
McCreary: Last winter–the biggest swells since 1969. I’d say the swell got up to 20-25 feet. Nobody goesout when the waves get that big, though. You have to drive to Santa Cruz or Monterey if you want to surf.
June: Is there a surfing code?
McCreary: There aren’t any written regulations but there is a kind of peer pressure. You go out and do whatever everyone else is doing. But one cardinal rule is that the first person who gets a waves has the right-of-way. You wouldn’t want to take off in front of him. That would be rude.
June: Any more advice?
McCreary: When you fall off a surfboard the best thing to remember is not to try to get the surfboard between you and the wave because once the wave hits the surfboard,it hits you. Always try to duck under the wave or the board.
Lots of wave sitters out there today: Lots of anxious wave sitters out there today:
Half Moon Bay is the historic land of Father Serra and the Missions, of Wells Fargo Stage runs along the dusty roads, of old adobe homes, of the Indians, of the pioneering immigrants from across the sea.
Of special historical interest is the James Johnston House, the first example of New England Salt box architecture brought to the West Coast. The structure still stands and restoration of the home is planned in the near future by the Johnston House Committee (ed. now completed). Upon completion, the Johnston House will be open to the public–a reminder of the elegant past of this charming coastal hamlet.
But it was more than beauty and history that kept people coming to Half Moon Bay. The old rutted San Francisco wagon trail of 1854 became a modern highway. The three-day journey became a thirty-minute drive. Soon there were roads in all directions. The sun and the sea and the good,clean air drew residents in greater and greater numbers, many commuting to San Francisco and Peninsula cities.
Some important points of interest, accessibleby car, are indicated on the map below–click to enlarge
In an earlier post, I told you that the circa 1970s Half Moon Bay developers Deane and Deane (along with big corporaton partner Westinghouse) sought to personalize the Coastside, you know, give it a personality, stamp it with an identity. So they started the popular highway-clogging Pumpkin Festivalâin its own way similar to the Ocean Shore Railroadâs tactic of giving potential lot buyers a free ride to the Coastsideâs gorgeous isolated and never-seen-before beaches where some hack gave the captive audience a free lunch and a real estate pitch).
But there was more. In the 1970s the developers published a classy looking pamphlet on 100% recycled paper called
The Romantic Past of HalfMoon Bay
Half Moon Bay is San Mateo Countyâs oldest town. The first dwellers were, of course, the native Indians; the large shell mound at Pillar Point was their old village of Shagunte. Some people think the Indians of Shagunte greeted Sir Francis Drake when he landed along the coast in 1579. There is some evidence that it was Half Moon Bay where the old sea-dog anchored for repairs after raiding Spanish settlements in Mexico and South America. First use dsof the territory was made by the Mission Dfolores, as pasture land for their livestock.
But real immigration did not begin until 1846, when the land-grant holders were driven out by the invaders during the Mexican-American war. At that time there were only seven houses, built with adobe by Indian labor. Of these, five may still be identified. In fact, the streets of Half Moon Bay today run in the directions determined by the location of those old adobe homes. But even in the â49er Gold Rush days the town boasted little more than seventy people. By 1852, the population had increased by only fifteen people.
In 1853, things changed. The territory became a town and, by 1855, had its own schoolâand its own saloon. The first pier was built in 1858 near Pillar Point. The first âhighwayâ? to San Francisco opened in 1854, a wagon trail that replaced the almost impassable paths. Then a big flour millcame to town in 1860âand Half Moon Bay began to grow in earnest. The Spanish were joined by the Scots and the Irish. And then came the Portuguese, who fished and grew grain and potatoes. Then came the Italian farmers to begin building the areaâs great artichoke industry.
In the latter part of the 19th century (1870s) Half Moon Bay was known as Spanishtown because there were so many Spanish-speaking people living in the tiny community–there’s even a Spanishtown Historical Society which displays the town’s early history housed in a two=cell jail on Johnston Street (around the corner from Main Street).
For years and years at Highway 1 and Medio Road in Miramar there was a tall wooden pole that had obviously been a sign post, advertising something, but what? You couldn’t see anything because the sign had been nailed over with wood.
One day a local decided to take the pole down and when he did the sign beneath was revealed to read: Palace Miramar Hotel. The wonderful photo by photographer Maria Demarest shows the stop-action thrill of the pole coming down–the most exciting event to occur on the ultra-quiet Coastside of the 1970s–but, sadly, I have no visual record of the sign itself.
(Photo: Another view of the geodesic dome that attracted a lot of attention in 1970s Miramar. See earlier Miramar post)
At left: Pete Douglas (in the back) and his brother, Jack, pose at the Ebb Tide Cafe, the hip coffee/jazz house, surrounded by artichokes and overlooking the Pacific Ocean in Miramar. This was the beginning of the Bach Dancing & Dynamite Society, today a world-class jazz house. (Actually, recently Pete brought back the flavor of the Ebb Tide Cafe, located in the same little building you see here).
Come to think of it, Miramar Beach (which means to behold the sea) has been the scene of many historic events, paralleling the growth of the Coastside.
(Photo: The first working wharf on the Coastside (built by Judge Josiah P. Ames in 1868) was located at present day Miramar. More than 50 years later, during the latter part of the doomed Ocean Shore Railroad era, the owners of the fabulous Palace Miramar Hotel repaired the rundown pier.)
Tiny Miramar Beach has been witness to the rancheros and the rounding of cattle near Medio Creek, site of the Coastsideâs first working wharf & seafaring community which gave way to construction of the Ocean Shore Railroad and construction of the beautiful Palace Miramar Hotel and restaurant.
Then when Prohibition rolled in, Miramar became a home to the colorful rumrunners, bootleggers and the red-haired madam with her upstairs bordello at the Miramar Beach Inn (not to be confused with the Palace Miramar which was located at the other end of the street where the wharf once was).
(At right: Overlooking the Pacific Ocean, the Palace Miramar Hotel burned in the 1960s. Special parties organized by the Ocean Shore Railroad stopped here and, later, the hotel became famous for crab cioppino dinners, sometimes these fundraisers for famous politicians such as with famous politicians Richard Nixon.)
The land surrounding the hotels and roadhouses was planted with artichokes by farmers. The chokes were served in novel ways at restaurants in Half Moon Bay and the Coastside was shipping the artichokes all over, even to the East Coast, earning the title of âartichoke capitalâ?.
And when the Ocean Shore Railroad filed bankruptcy, pulling up the rails, the Miramar Beach Inn and the Palace Miramar served customers delicious clam chowder and fond memories of other times. (The Palace Miramar burned in the 1960s but the Miramar Beach Inn still stands).
Representing the beat era spiritually, former county probation officer Pete Douglas inventeed the Bach Dancing & Dynamite Societyâwhich metamorphised from the Ebb Tide Cafe, an intimate, hip coffee house with spontaneous acting-out, but more importantly the beginning of jazz music scene at the beach-this was in the late 1950sâto a bigger world- class jazz house featuring first-rate musicians playing the full spectrum of jazz. Peteâs kept the âBachâ?, as we locals call it, pure. Weâre so lucky to have a jazz house on the CoastsideâI can even walk there from my house.
(Photo: When photographer Michael Powersâ dome appeared in Miramar in the 1970s, the structure became a curiosity piece in Miramar).
In the 70s greeting card photographer Michael Powers built a geodesic dome near the site of the then-gone Palace Miramarâ and behind Powerâs dome is where the future young, intrepid surfer Jeff Clark grew up, the Jeff Clark who, on his Coastside surfing journeys, was to discover and name world famous Mavericksâwhose immense winter waves bring world-class surfers to Half Moon Bay.
(Photo: The cover of âMaverickâs by Matt Warshaw, published by Chronicle Books)
Now weâre up to date.
In Miramar, every historic era of the Coastside is represented, if not still seen, then it must be imagined.
A few posts back I told you how I first got into Coastside history.
I was obsessed with it and had to have everything I could get my hands on. Every time I collected a new photo, fact or anecdote, I felt so proud. I really did.
When I heard the Miramar Beach Inn had originally been built as a prohibition roadhouse– and even more tantalizing–that a madam named Maymie Cowley ran the place, I set out on a search for her. I figured there was a slight chance Maymie was still alive; she would have been in her 90s at the time.
Alas, I was too late. She had died some ten years before I started my search for her. I did get information at the funeral home and found relatives and her last place of residence in Redwood City (After a robbery at the Miramar in 1955, her home since about 1916, she moved over the hill). I wrote the relatives and they sent me photographs of Maymie–nobody had these photos.
I knocked on the door of Maymie’s last known home–a place she shared with another woman but couldn’t get anywhere. The lady did admit Maymie had lived there but I think she thought I was some sort of nosey official, what with my legal sized notebook and pen in hand. (I was so serious about my research).
By the way, that’s Maymie in the photo, one of the pix her relatives from the Midwest sent me. (And what’s great is that the Miramar–that’s what locals call it–an historic roadhouse, still stands.