Patrick F. Cunneen Interview


Patrick F. Cunneen Interview

Introduction | Cunneen interview

Patrick F. Cunneen
Athlete from Kelly’s Cove at
Ocean Beach, San Francisco, California
Interview conducted by
Stephen “Woody” LaBounty
April 29, 2013

Interview Description — Patrick F. Cunneen


Pat Cunneen in 2011 - Photograph by David Gallagher

Patrick F. Cunneen was born in San Francisco in 1933 and grew up on 21st Avenue in the Sunset District near Golden Gate Park. He attended St. Anne’s of the Sunset Catholic School at Funston Avenue and Irving Street and then Sacred Heart High School. After two years at the University of San Francisco, Pat served in the United States Coast Guard during the Korean War. After marrying his wife Betty, he worked 38 years in the Daly City Fire Department.

Pat first started visiting Kelly’s Cove in the early 1940s when he was in the fifth grade. In 1969, after what he describes as his "dark days," Pat quit smoking and drinking and began running. His wife Betty was one of the founders of the Pamakid Running Club and as he remembers, he "started to run, jump, and play, and really had a lot of fun and the whole family got into it too." Betty passed away in 2012, but Pat is still an athletic, robust man who loves to hike and be outdoors.

The interview took place in Sebastopol, California and was conducted with other former Kelly’s Cove denizens, Dennis O’Rorke and Paul Judge. It was recorded on a digital recorder, transcribed, and audited, with Mr. Cunneen’s memories edited from the group discussion. Mr. Cunneen reviewed the interview and offered clarifying edits for incorporation. [Read the interview.]

Kelly's Cove has been a retreat for fitness-oriented San Franciscans from at least the 1940s. Tucked under the famous Cliff House restaurant, the curve of sand at the north end of Ocean Beach became a meeting place for cold-water swimmers, runners, and practitioners of calisthenics who used rocky outcrops and a nearby iron pier to exercise. After World War II, Kelly's Cove became an early body and board surfing spot. A dedication to physical development in a natural environment kept company with a companionable party atmosphere. One Kelly's bodysurfer, Jack O'Neill, opened a surf shop at the beach in 1952, and developed the first commercially available wetsuit in response to the frigid water of Ocean Beach. The O'Neill Company is now a leader in beach lifestyle sportswear and sells the majority of the world's wetsuits.

Beyond the roots of surf technology and commerce, Kelly's Cove visitors reflected and developed a California surfing ethos with roots in Polynesian culture as well as alternative and counterculture movements developing in postwar San Francisco.

Western Neighborhoods Project launched Tales from Kelly’s Cove to bring about a greater public understanding of the role a cold-water cove in San Francisco had in creating the world's view of surfing, and by association, California life.


Western Neighborhoods Project (WNP) is a California nonprofit organization formed in 1999 to preserve and share the history of western San Francisco. In 2013, WNP initiated the Tales from Kelly’s Cove project to collect and share the oral histories of men and women who have frequented the northernmost corner of San Francisco's Ocean Beach, an early surfing and community gathering spot. The primary objective of Tales from Kelly’s Cove is to increase public awareness of the area's nascent role in the history of California's surfing, fitness, and counterculture movements. More information on the project, photographs, and other Kelly’s Cove interviews can be found on this website.

This project was made possible with support from Cal Humanities, an independent non-profit state partner of the National Endowment for the Humanities. For more information, visit www.calhum.org. Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this interview do not necessarily represent those of Cal Humanities or the National Endowment for the Humanities.

About Oral History

Oral history is a field of study and a method of gathering, preserving and interpreting the voices and memories of people, communities, and participants in past events. Firsthand historical information is collected through recorded interviews between a subject and interviewer. The recordings are transcribed, edited for clarity, and reviewed by the interviewee for a final edit. The recordings and corrected manuscripts for the Tales from Kelly’s Cove interviews are held at Western Neighborhoods Project and other research collections for review and scholarly use. More on oral history principles and best practices can be found on the website of the Oral History Association: www.oralhistory.org.

Citation and Use

All uses of this manuscript are covered by a legal agreement between Western Neighborhoods Project and Patrick F. Cunneen dated April 29, 2013. Copyright is shared between Patrick F. Cunneen and Western Neighborhoods Project. The manuscript is available for research purposes. Excerpts up to 1000 words from this interview may be quoted for publication without seeking permission as long as the use is non-commercial and properly cited. Requests for permission to quote should be sent to Western Neighborhoods Project.

Recommended citation:

Patrick F. Cunneen “Athlete from Kelly’s Cove at Ocean Beach, San Francisco, California” conducted by Stephen “Woody” LaBounty, Western Neighborhoods Project, San Francisco, California, 2013.

The digital recording files and transcript of this interview are available for research use at the Western Neighborhoods Project office. A copy of the transcript has also been deposited at the San Francisco History Center at the San Francisco Public Library.

Stephen “Woody” LaBounty
Western Neighborhoods Project
San Francisco, California
January 2015

[Read the interview.]

Introduction | Cunneen interview




This project was made possible with support from Cal Humanities, an independent non-profit state partner of the National Endowment for the Humanities. For more information, visit www.calhum.org.

Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this Web site do not necessarily represent those of Cal Humanities or the National Endowment for the Humanities.


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