Jeff Baldwin, the former ASP World Tour professional surfer native to Del Mar, spends this time of the year frequenting Australia’s coastline with his long-time friend Tom Carrol, two-time world surf champion. Far from any traces of the bustling and cosmopolitan city life, the open expanse takes him back to his humble beginnings in Del Mar.
“The coast is just wide open, so it reminds me of what California was when I was young,” Baldwin said. “My dad put me on a surfboard before I could walk, and I grew up on the beach in Del Mar.”
Baldwin’s affinity with surfing came at a time when Del Mar’s surf culture landed in its golden age, arriving in the 1980s. While the popularity and surf retail sales jumped, the sport also diverged as a professional avenue for surfers.
At the time, the Del Mar Surf Club, earlier founded by Grant Larsen and Corbin Taylor, ignited a spark in the growing community of surfers in the city. With the help of the Del Mar Lifeguard Department, they organized local competitions, paddleboard races and beach cleanups responsible for the boom in the surf scene. For a few years, the city ran its own annual surfing contest.
“Both [Larsen and Taylor] were sort of the foundational characters of the Del Mar surf culture,” said Scott Bass, a long-time Del Mar surfer. “It was quite a scene. It was a hotbed of talent and a fun place to be a young surfer.”
There was an unmistakable sense of community. And Baldwin enjoyed every moment of it.
“When the Del Mar Surfing Club was open, many people came back and gave presentations of their surfing trips,” Baldwin said. “Jim Lischer, one of the lifeguards, documented all this footage, which he edited into movies. It was magic.”
Today, the local surf community continues to grow with the rise in women surfing.
“More girls are participating in surfing, so those are positive outlooks,” Claire Conover, the Torrey Pines High School Girl Surf Team captain, said. “I remember I was one of probably two girls in my freshman year who showed up to surf practice, and now we have probably four or five girls who show up.”
With a steady increase in surfers in Del Mar, it is no surprise the 35 years running Rusty Del Mar Surf Shop still manifests itself as a hub for surfers. Zach Groban, one of the store owners, credits the store’s efforts with holding surf competitions, raffles and other community events allowing anyone to inhale a breath of the local surf scene whenever they step foot into Rusty.
Though Del Mar surfing may have lost its once raw vigor, San Diegans never stop embracing the sport with welcoming arms.
“It’s easy to reminisce through rose-colored glasses about how great it was when we were kids. But the bottom line is tomorrow morning, the wind will go offshore tonight and clean up, and I’m going to wake up and be excited about checking the surf town for a beach break,” Bass said.