It’s called Trestles. It means surfing.
For decades the surf break with the odd name south of here has been legend, one that wave riders say is a creation of natural interactions between land and ocean that make it one of the best — if not the best — on the nation’s coastline.
Now, they fear the forces of nature that sustain the “Yosemite of Surfing” will be overwhelmed by the forces of development, in the form of a planned toll highway.
Transportation officials say the road is needed to ease intense congestion on Interstate 5 between the suburban sprawl of Orange County and San Diego. Surfers say it will ruin Trestles by blocking sediment flows that make the surf breaks world class.
“That’s where we go to feel the nature in our sport. There’s no more nature left in surfing if they start screwing with Trestles,” said Jericho Poppler, one of the sport’s most decorated stars.
The proposal has made instant activists of many surfers, who have banded together for “paddle out protests” to protect Trestles, the only World Championship Tour stop in the continental United States. Toll road opponents also have expressed their displeasure through more than 7,000 comments at public hearings last summer.
The road, which could stretch up to 16 miles, would be the last piece of a 67-mile county toll network that started in 1993 and serves 300,000 drivers daily.
Traffic between Orange and San Diego counties is projected to increase by 60 percent in the next 20 years, mostly because of the addition of nearly 50,000 homes and 98,000 jobs in southern Orange County. If nothing is done, officials predict, the interstate will be gridlocked for up to eight hours a day by 2025 as it passes through some of Orange County’s most famous beach cities.
“Every study that we’ve done shows that the vast majority of people want to see Foothill South built,” said Clare Climaco, spokeswoman for the Transportation Corridor Agencies, which finances and builds Orange County’s toll roads. “They’ll take a tollway option because they know it will save them time.”
Surfers and environmentalists, however, say the road will block sandy runoff from the San Mateo Creek watershed. The sand and cobbles from the watershed are what make the wave breaks at Trestles so good, they say.
The 3½-mile-long beach has several separate breaks — each with its own name — that have distinct characteristics, said Mark Rauscher, assistant environmental director for the Surfrider Foundation. Trestles itself is named after an old railroad bridge near the beach.
“The surf has been created by that river, by that creek,” he said. “When you get the heavy rains, all the sand and cobbles get pushed out and it gets nicely shaped so that the wave peels just beautifully.”
Surfers and environmentalists would rather see improvements to I-5 than a new toll road.
Three of the six alignments proposed for the toll road would punch through the 2,100-acre San Onofre State Beach, which sits just south of the Orange County-San Diego County line and contains Trestles.
The project would not cut through the beach, but it would affect about 400 acres of the inland section of the park, said Climaco.
The road would rejoin Interstate 5 in the park, which draws more than 2½ million visitors a year. The sketches put the interchange about a half-mile from the beach, over the footpath surfers use to access Trestles, Rauscher said.
Climaco disagrees with surfers’ contention that the project would affect surfing. She pointed out that the interstate has passed near Trestles for decades with no ill effects.
Climaco said the new road would affect less than half of 1 percent of the San Mateo Creek watershed and was proposed to pass through the park to avoid San Clemente and the southern portion of the Marine Corps’ Camp Pendleton.
“We feel very strongly about our environmental track record,” she said.
Agency officials will choose one of the alignment alternatives by January, Climaco said. The project must still pass a number of federal hurdles but could be completed as early as 2010, she said.