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'Saved Forever?': An Eco-Ethnography of Trestles' Surfscape


The creeks of the San Mateo Point watershed empty into the Pacific Ocean at the intersection of San Onofre State Beach, Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, and a famous group of surf breaks called Trestles in Southern California. This site brings into view several transecting borders: land/water, public/private, human/non-human and recreational/militaristic/environmental. This dissertation explores the disjunctive intersection of these borders in the production of what I term “Trestles’ surfscape.” The term reworks Appadurai's “globalscapes” with Lefebvre’s “production of space,” and the more recent calls for an “amphibious anthropology” by René ten Bos. This dissertation is an ethnography of “Save Trestles,” a campaign to save San Onofre State Beach and its world-famous surf breaks from the development of an eight-lane, sixteen-mile toll road extension. The campaign demonstrates sophisticated social-change networking and advocacy that considers the coupling of human-natural systems. Social actors include the Juaneño Band of Mission Indians, Acjachemen Nation, scientists, surfers, the global surfing industry and transportation agencies. In 2016, a legal settlement prohibited any future transportation projects through the state beach/park; stakeholders celebrated, declaring Trestles “saved forever.”

I employ a transdisciplinary methodology to show how the political ecology of Trestles’ surfscape reveals an elaborate web of relationships between (non)humans and their lived environments, past and present, local and global. My methodology is rooted in the ocean literacy I acquired as a surfer, as well as data-gathering techniques I learned as a citizen scientist for the Urban Tides initiative. This dissertation calls into question the success of the campaign given that rising sea levels remain Trestles’ ultimate threat. Furthermore, the push to build a toll road near San Clemente continues, and climate change science is under assault. This case study is organized into four chapters. The first chapter provides a historical overview of the production of Trestles’ surfscape. The second chapter focuses on the campaign to “Save Trestles.” Chapter 3 looks at the contemporary surfscape as an abject anthropogenic space. The last chapter turns to the Urban Tides Initiative and concerns over the impact that sea-level rise will have on Trestles’ economic future.

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