By VICTORIA DAVIS | Downtown News
There are three things 66-year-old Loren Smith is an expert at: plucking the bass, strumming his guitar, and playing the best vacationing Santa on the West Coast. Smith, a long-time San Diego resident, has been Seaport Village’s white-bearded, Hawaiian shirt-wearing, board shorts-sporting “Surfin’ Santa” for the last 14 years, attracting thousands of people at a time to Holidays at Seaport Village each December.
“This is probably the hardest job that I do every year because of going up and down on a surfboard for 200 pictures,” said Smith, who has also played Santa for SeaWorld San Diego and the San Diego Zoo. “But making those kids smile is wonderful and the event itself is always remarkably successful and fun.”
“He’s the original San Diego Santa Clause,” added Scott Andrews, the event’s marketing director.
Holidays at Seaport Village takes place throughout the month of December, having kicked off last weekend with Smith arriving at the village on watercraft Saturday, Nov. 30, for his signature Surfin’ Santa reveal, parade and photo-op session. In 2013, USA Today named Smith’s arrival one of the “10 best Santa sightings in America.”
“It’s always been a popular event,” said Smith, who will also be the guest of honor at “Breakfast with Surfin’ Santa” at Harbor House Restaurant Saturday, Dec. 14. From 9 to 11 a.m., holiday guests can chow down and take pictures with Smith, get their face painted, enjoy balloon artists and a kids show. Every Saturday in December will also feature Smith’s band Jackstraws, also known as the “Surfing Santa Band,” who will play Beach Boys-inspired music while fashioning Santa hats and other Christmas attire.
“The crowds are wonderful, and the support is great,” added Smith. “Seaport’s holiday festivities have always been big and they’re getting bigger.”
This year will likely be Seaport’s largest holiday bash to date, according to Andrews. Holidays at Seaport will be featuring more entertainment than ever before, with their “Holidays by the Bay” partnering with Nomad Artz, to showcasing candy cane stilt walkers and pop-music carolers Saturdays and Sundays from now until Dec. 22nd, as well as a human-sized, beach-themed snow globe with a dancer contortionist inside, featured Dec. 8 and 15. Plus, live music from jazz and orchestral to contemporary will be up for enjoyment everyday by the food courts.
“We’re really excited to bring these creative characters together,” said Nomad Artz Costume and Booking Manager Layla Marcus. “This is a time for families to get together to celebrate the holidays and San Diego culture as well. We don’t get the snow, but we do get the sun and the waves and it gives us an excuse to be outside and just play.”
But Holidays at Seaport Village is also adopting a philanthropic approach this year, joining forces with Surfrider Foundation San Diego to display Surfrider artist works, like a Christmas tree made entirely out of repurposed trash, to promote sustainability and bring awareness to plastic pollution in the oceans. Seaport Village is also inviting guests to donate new toys at “Santa’s Workshop” (located in front of the Harbor House), which will be gifted to Toys for Tots.
“This is a way we can impact our guests in an active and positive way,” said Andrews. “The holidays are not just about entertainment, it’s also a season for giving.”
Feeding San Diego will also have an ornament-making station near Santa’s Workshop, where families and friends can create angels out of plastic spoons and write encouraging messages to be put in Feeding San Diego food-filled backpacks that go out on Fridays to kids in need of meals.
“It’s a really great opportunity for us to get the message out about the face of hunger in our community,” said Charina Layman from Feeding San Diego. “Especially during times like this, when we have the threat of wildfires, people fall into need very easily being displaced from their homes and having to make difficult choices.”
While it’s still one of his more taxing jobs, it’s these nonprofit connections and the greater-good focus which has made Surfin’ Santa Smith’s favorite Santa role.
“There’s a unique energy that comes with this particular event,” said Smith. “This event really means a lot to me and I’m proud of what they do. It’s a big reason why playing this Santa character has become so special to me.”
Other Holidays at Seaport Village activities include holiday film screenings by Seaport Cinema, photos with Santa at Santa’s Workshop, San Diego Bay Parade of Lights (Dec. 8 and 15), and a Menorah lighting on Dec. 28. For more information on tickets and times, visit seaportvillage.com/holidays.
— Victoria Davis is a full-time, multi-media, freelance journalist. You can follow her on Instagram and Twitter @victoriadavisd. To contact Victoria, email at email@example.com.