Twenty-six miles across the sea
Santa Catalina is a-waitin' for me
Santa Catalina, the island of romance
Romance, romance, romance
View of Catalina
casino from parasail
The tiniest speck of Santa Catalina, 22.3 miles over yonder blue waves, was the subject of curiosity and dreams to 15-year-old Bruce Belland. He imagined palm trees, girls, and romance - lots of romance - populating the island so far out there.
Belland had seen this island before, on reel-to-reels of his beloved Chicago Cubs during spring training, where William Wrigley Jr. (“Doublemint twins,” anyone? ), the island’s owner at the time, had built a baseball diamond on it just for them. That was when Belland decided he would get there someday, somehow. And so it was while body surfing in the waves along a patch of California’s 840 miles of coastline that Belland began thinking up the tune that would become “26 Miles,” the song that Dick Clark dubbed “the first surfer hit.” Indeed.
Rewind to the year 1954. The odds-on favorite for winning the Hollywood High Student Talent Show was a female. This was due in large part - 100%, in fact - because not a single male had even entered
the contest. Out went the trumpet from the organizers of the show, “Come on
Enter Bruce Belland. He liked the looks of the competition, so he and three male friends entered the contest to attempt a win against what men have been losing to since time immemorial: a sea of estrogen. According to their Web site, “The Four Preps” stole the show; no mention of if they actually won, but no matter; their nearly six-decades-long career was established and cemented that very night.
The four members of the new band soon signed with Capitol Records, and in 1958 they released “26 Miles.” Sounding eerily like the 1954 Crew-Cuts hit “Sh’boom,” “26 Miles” shot up the charts to the No. 2 spot; it was their first Top Ten song. They’ve since reaped a lot of mileage from it. The song has sold over 8 million copies to date and purportedly served as an influence to Brian Wilson and Jimmy Buffett. It has caused Belland and the guys to live out the dream - ad nauseam - visiting the island of Santa Catalina more times than are feasibly countable, where Belland judges “26 Miles” singing competitions, serves as 4th of July marshal, helps raise money for various endeavors on the island, and has become a part of the culture there as much as kayaks and parasailing.
Sea life in the Catalina harbor
Aside from the legend that is “26 Miles,” the island itself is a ridiculous marvel of tourist yachts, tourists with yachts, and tourists who dream about yachts. It was originally inhabited 7,000 years before it became lousy with thousands of people every day coming in off ferries and throwing money - lots of money - at the islanders for various activities. Considering there are less than 4,100 people who call the 22x8-mile island home, that’s a lot of cash per individual to gamble at the Catalina Casino (compliments of the Wrigley ownership), if there was any gambling to be had there. But this isn't a Vegas-style casino, so don't load up your wallet with C-notes in the hopes of parlaying it into a new mansion.
There are some decidedly interesting moments dotting the island’s recent history: in 2011, just after a fire engulfed 117 acres of island, 1,500 pounds of marijuana was seized by the LA County Sheriff’s Department. Had the two incidents collided, we can only imagine the famine outbreak that would surely have occurred within the week.
It is also just off the coast of Catalina that actress Natalie Wood (Miracle on 34th Street, Rebel Without a Cause
) drowned under suspicious circumstances in 1981.
Otherwise, Santa Catalina is
sort of a magical place: warm water, tropic heat, exotic fish, great
old hotels. It’s an hour by ferry off the coast of Newport Beach, California. And although the Four Preps would have you believe it’s 26 miles, Belland himself has confessed, “It's really [something like] 22.3 miles, but you
try singing that. Think about that meter!"
~Shawna Hansen Ortega
Links of interest:TheFourPreps.com
.Catalina Island Chamber of Commerce