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Mike Curren, Mission Beach legend and Over-The-Line founder, dies at 92

Mike Curren in 2014.
(David Brooks/The San Diego Union-Tribune)

Curren created the game while waiting for a volleyball court and later founded the Old Mission Beach Athletic Club in 1953, leaving behind an enduring legacy

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Mike Curren, the man credited with inventing the Over-The-Line game that helped make San Diego beach culture famous, died Friday at his longtime home in south Mission Beach. He was 92.

Known as the unofficial mayor of south Mission Beach and a frequent presence at popular watering holes the Beachcomber and the Pennant, Curren created an enduring legacy when he founded the Old Mission Beach Athletic Club in 1953.

The club launched San Diego’s annual Over-The-Line tournament on the Fourth of July weekend that year and has hosted one every summer since, including the 69th annual last July.

“He was the force that kept it all together,” Curren’s brother, Terry, said Monday by phone. “It’s amazing to us it’s lasted this long, and there doesn’t seem to be any end in sight.”

The Over-The-Line tournament, which drew 700 teams last summer, is famous not only for the game itself but also for the related hoopla and partying of the contestants and the crowds who gather to watch. Bawdy team names and cheeky costumes are among the highlights of the raucous event.

Curren came up with the game, sometimes described as a cross between baseball and softball played in sand, while waiting to play volleyball on the lone public court available in Old Mission Beach in the late 1940s, his brother said.

Mike Curren uses surveying instruments to line up the exact dimensions of the courts
Mike Curren uses surveying instruments to line up the exact dimensions of the courts for the 2010 Over-The-Line competition.
(Peggy Peattie/The San Diego Union-Tribune)

“As a stopgap and something to keep us out of getting into trouble, we set up an Over-The-Line court,” said Terry Curren, 88. “It was pretty loose because we didn’t have anything as sophisticated as a measuring stick for dimensions.”

While Mike Curren was both well-known and beloved by many in Mission Beach, his brother said it never made Mike’s head swell.

“He was never flamboyant and never tried to be the life of the party,” his brother said. “He was a gentleman and he was well-liked and respected.”

Curren’s romantic partner of more than four decades, Helen Duffy, said Monday that he defied the beach bum stereotype and was a quiet intellectual who read extensively about history, philosophy and other subjects.

“He was very intelligent, and that’s something a lot of people didn’t recognize if they didn’t know him well,” Duffy said. “He was engaging and irreverent.”

Sean Cook with team Minajah Brah takes a hit in the 2022 Over-The-Line Tournament at Fiesta Island.
(K.C. Alfred/The San Diego Union-Tribune)

After two marriages that resulted in three children, Curren was single at 50 and wandered into the Pennant one night and met then-30-year-old Duffy. They had been together since, she said.

“He was my little Irishman,” she said, describing Curren as “wiry, athletic and extremely powerful” despite being relatively small in stature at 5-foot-8.

“He was truly something else,” Duffy said. “He lived a magical life, and he lived it the way he wanted to.”

Curren had a long career as a land surveyor and was pleased he was able live his final years in his own home and in his beloved Mission Beach, Duffy said.

No memorial or services honoring Curren have been planned, but his brother said he is confident the beach community will come together in coming weeks or months to honor Mike and his legacy.


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