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California's Leo Carrillo State Park

Updated on September 2, 2015

Heart Of Malibu

In the heart of Malibu, CA, lies Leo Carillo State Park, one of Southern California's most beautiful beaches. You couldn’t find a better place to enjoy a weekend.

And back in the 1960’s that’s what my family often did. Our parents would pack up all six kids, the dog and anything else needed for a camping trip into our compact, white Valiant station wagon. Fortunately, we lived in Camarillo, CA at the time and it wasn’t a far drive.

The park was named after Leo Carrillo (1880-1961), actor, preservationist and conservationist. He was best known for his portrayal of “ Pancho”, the sidekick to Duncan Renaldo's Cisco Kid, in an early 1950's TV series.

In the 1960’s the 1.5 mile beach was popular, but it was still easy to get reservations if you planned on staying a while. Nowadays, it’s wise to plan 6-7 months in advance. To camp in June, book in December to insure getting a reservation.

The place is well known for its’ great camping sites and giant sycamore shade trees. But the beach is also a good surfing spot. Swimming, windsurfing, fishing and beachcombing are other activities you can indulge in. There are even tide pools, coastal caves and reefs.

My older brother Tom and I loved swimming in the surf and the first time we went there we rushed to the beach to check out the surf…and girls of course. That’s what 14 and 15 year old boys do!

We Saw The Waves

However, when we saw the size of the waves rolling in we stopped and reconsidered the swimming idea. These were slightly larger waves than what we were used to. Well, at least I stopped. Tom only hesitated a moment before continuing hell bent for leather into the emerald green wall of water. Moments later he popped to the surface. “What are you waiting for?” Tom hollered, fighting to be heard over the crashing surf.

A little further down the waves weren't as big and seasoned vacationers were swimming there. Why had Tom selected this spot?

Tom had always been my hero. Cool, suave, debonair, muscular…you get the picture. He was already getting a few admiring looks from several bikini clad beauties. For some reason whenever he was around, girls didn’t seem to notice me.

Anyway, I couldn’t let him think I was afraid of a little water. So, closing my eyes I dove in. And then there I was, together with Tom, dog paddling atop the sun warmed rolling waves. “Hey, this isn’t so bad”, I thought to myself. But Tom was also a dare devil and I should have known he’d think of something stupid to try.

Body Surfing

He and I had recently watched a TV documentary on some new fad called “body surfing”. It’s simply stiffening your body and having it act like a surf board. That’s what Tom decided to do and of course he invited me to join him. We always did everything together.

I was happy just bobbing up and down in the huge swells. Why would anyone want to point their body towards shore and have a huge wave hurl you onto the sandy, rock strewn beach? That didn’t strike me as anyone’s’ idea of fun.

But with or without me, Tom was going to do it. He was already sizing up the next series of waves and deciding which one to ride in. He chose one, began swimming towards shore and let it lift him up. Tom yelled in delight as he hurtled forward. My eyes scanned the distant beach searching for him. A minute passed and I feared he might not have made it. Those waves could drown a person if they didn’t know what they were doing…and we really didn’t. Then I saw him, jumping up and down on the beach, excitedly gesturing me to get on with it.

I emulated what I had seen my brother do, picking a wave and swimming out in front of it to gather momentum. I felt the wave pick me up and carry me forward. “This is great…I’m doing it!” I gleefully thought. It was then something went terribly wrong.

The curl of the huge wave suddenly stopped, seemingly suspended in air for a fraction of a second, and then came crashing straight down on top of me. The weight of the wave forced me down where a churning fury of unseen forces tore at my body and drug me unmercifully along the ocean floor. I fought to get back to the surface, but was repeatedly beaten back down by the continuing cycle of incoming waves. My lungs began to ache for air and I knew in a few moments I would become another statistic.

As luck would have it, a momentary break in the waves allowed me just enough time to reach the surface and gulp in a lung full of air. Then another wave crashed over me and the whole cycle began over again. Finally, the waves pushed me far enough in to where I could stand up and begin walking out of the surf. But not quite far enough to keep from getting knocked down a few more times.

At last, gasping for breath, I was able to drag my exhausted body close to shore. At this point one pint sized wave slapped me in the rear end pushing me face first into the sand. The Pacific Ocean was mocking me!

I took the hint and headed back to camp. Tom met me before I got off the beach. “Come on, let’s go again!” he hollered enthusiastically. I stood in stunned silence for a moment thinking the boy “just wasn’t right”. Then I said, “Sure, you first”. Tom headed back to the water. I continued my trek back to camp thinking next time I’d have a surf board like everybody else.

We made several trips to Leo Carrillo State Park that summer and enjoyed each one. But the first time is one I’ll always remember.


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