by Corky Carroll
EDDIE McBRIDE, SURFER 24/7/365
This week I am gonna dive way back into the early 1960’s for a little bit of Orange County surf history. It involves the San Onofre Surf Club, the Merrill family and a classic old surf dude named Eddie McBride.
I first started to surf at San Onofre way back in the 1950’s when the mother of two brothers who lived down the street, who were my age and both learning to surf at the same time as I was, would drive us down there in the back of her station wagon. Then in the early 1960’s I became friends with Benny Merrill, a club member who lived in San Clemente with his wife Kay, son Tommy and daughter Linda. Tommy was a local hot surfer who worked in the Velzy and Jacobs shop on Pacific Coast Highway and Linda was the tandem partner of the great Mike Doyle. Benny was an excellent surfer in his own right and the family home was sort of a meeting place for many of the San Onofre members and also local surfers. I would ride the Greyhound bus down there on Fridays after school and the Merrills would let me sleep in a back playroom that they had.
One of the San Onofre members who also hung at the Merrills was Eddie McBride. Eddie was retired from a career working for the Federal Governments Geological Department taking depth soundings along the entire West Coast. He had spent his entire life paddling around in small boats doing his soundings, and surfing along the way. At this point in his life I am gonna say Eddie was somewhere in probably his 60’s. He would be the first one in to San Onofre each morning and the last one out at the 10 P.M. closing time each and every day of the year. Then he would park his little camper truck, that he lived in, in front of the Merrills house and sleep each night. You could find him every day, rain or shine, in the very last parking spot on the far south end of the beach. That was his spot.
I really liked Eddie and spent a lot of time listening to him tell me great stories about the early days of surfing in California and all the historical surf guys and girls who came before me. He was a super good story teller. During those weekends staying with the Merrills I would normally hang out with a girlfriend I had in that area at night and then go to San Onofre with Benny and Kay during the days. There were a lot of colorful older surf legends on hand at almost any given time and they all loved to hang around the fire ring reminiscing about some story. One such tale was about the huge day back in the 1930’s when they had to stand on top of a Box Car parked on the railroad tracks in order to see George “Peanuts” Larson ride a 40 foot wave all way from outside Lower Trestles through “Church” and into the beach in front of the old Marine Recreation Center. If you don’t know that area this ride would have been close to a mile long. Being the punk “know it all” kid that I was back then I would laugh and say, “IT WAS NEVER 40 FOOT,” you guys are nuts.” This did not endear me to many of them. But Eddie was always understanding of my youthful obnoxiousness and was nice to me.
In later years when I had a car and could drive myself around I would sometimes drive down to San Onofre on a cold rainy day in the winter and go visit Eddie in his old camper truck in that same spot. I would take him something to eat and/or drink and would hang out talking surf stories for hours. He had a wonderful personality and never got tired of me coming around to squeeze some good history out of him, or at least he never let me know about it in case he did. I always felt he was happy to see me. Well, seeing as how he was there all the time and especially on cold winter days when nobody was down there except him, he was probably glad to see me. Plus, I was always good for a couple burgers and a six pack of beer.
When I got older and had a family and spent most of my time doing other things I didn’t get down to hang out with Eddie much and sort of lost touch with him. I would wind up moving to Idaho for a couple of years after my pro surfing career ended and somewhere along the line Eddie passed away. I didn’t actually hear about it when it happened, it was a few years later when I was down at San Onofre one day and noticed that his truck was not there in its spot. I asked where he was, and I think it was Doc Paskowitz that told me he had died. I didn’t get the details, just that he was gone.
Eddie was just one of a whole crew of really wonderful surfers who hung at San Onofre back then. A lot of those guys had kids that grew up to be the fathers and those dudes had kids and there is a whole “San Onofre Families” thing with that place. There are kids there now who have like four or five generations of San Onofre surfers that came before them. So much history at that beach. And Eddie McBride and Benny Merrill and his family were a huge part of that heritage.