Surfrider Report: Don’t Let Them Kill The Trestles

Few spots in the country, perhaps even the world, can match the consistency and quality of Lower Trestles. Long heralded as Southern California’s premier performance wave, “Lowers” catches swells from nearly every direction and offers up perfect, almost machine-like rights and lefts. Once off-limits to surfers, Lowers is now one of the centerpieces of the Orange County surf scene–hosting a WCT event each summer and insane freesurfing sessions the rest of the year. It’s also in danger of being wiped out.

For several years now, the Surfrider Foundation, Sierra Club, Audubon Society, Trout Unlimited, and other organizations have been working to thwart plans by the Transportation Corridor Agency (TCA) to extend the 241 Toll Road sixteen miles west from its current terminus in Rancho Santa Margarita, which would let out directly above the break at Lowers.

“Much has been said about the devastating effect that the proposed Foothill-South Toll Road will have on the environment along San Mateo Creek,” says Chad Nelsen, Surfrider Foundation’s Environmental Director. “However, the impact to our coastal resources and specifically the breaks at Trestles should not be overlooked.”

Nelsen maintains that construction for the project would first fill the creek with inordinate amounts of sediment. Then once the road is finished, flood-control structures could prevent much of the natural sediment from reaching the beach. According to Nelsen, this is a primary concern, as both excessive amounts and a substantial lack of sediments flowing into the ocean have the ability to adversely impact the quality and shape of the wave. “Trestles is a classic Southern California river-mouth break. It relies upon and is affected by sand, cobble, and other sediments moving in and out of the area.”

Another concern is the impact the project (and corresponding growth in residential development) would have on water quality. For thousands of years, water from San Mateo and Christianitos creeks have flowed out from the coastal mountains. Even now this area is still relatively undeveloped and comprises the last natural watershed in Orange County. Should the TCA ever succeed in creating this project, it is likely that we’ll begin to see water-quality issues similar to that of nearby San Juan Creek or Aliso Creek–two watersheds that are so contaminated from urban runoff that the county has had to place permanent signs at the beaches where they let out, warning beachgoers of possible health issues.

With the TCA and developers putting their entire weight behind the initiative, how likely is it that the toll-road extension project will happen? “Very likely,” says Nelsen, “unless the public joins with the various environmental groups to make our voices heard.”


To find out how you can voice your opposition to the Foothill South Toll Road, visit