Canyon Lakers carry on Santa Ride tradition

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Canyon Lake resident Frank Opp and his son Trevor are gearing up for the 18th annual Santa Ride on Dec. 24 to benefit Orangewood Children’s Home.

Frank founded the Santa Ride in 2000 when he and some of his friends thought it would be entertaining to dress up as Santas and ride their motorcycles on Christmas Eve.

Trevor, then three years old, dressed as an elf and rode with Frank. Trevor graduated from elf to Santa when he received his driver’s license and Frank gifted him the bike he rode on as a youngster in the first Santa.

“Trevor absolutely loves this annual tradition,” said Frank. “We look forward to it all year long.”

The first year, six Santas participated in the ride. Last year, 340 Santas participated. An estimated 500 to 600 motorcycles are expected this year. News of the ride has always been spread by word of mouth. This year, flyers are being distributed.

Each participant is asked to donate an unwrapped toy, gift card or money. The donations are delivered by the riders to Orangewood Children’s Home. Nearly 1,000 gifts were donated last year.

Frank chose Orangewood Children’s Home because the organization is near and dear to his heart. As a former Huntington Beach police officer, Frank would sometimes have to place children in the care of Orangewood Children’s Home. “Most of their family members didn’t even know where their kids were,” said Frank.

In response to the few critics who disagree with the Santa Ride being held on Christmas Eve, Frank said, “When people participate, they have such satisfaction. These are people who are taking time away from their families for kids who really need it.  That is truly giving, that is real sacrifice.” He added, “It’s only a few hours out of your day to make a difference for a child this holiday season.”

The Santa ride starts at 7 a.m. at the Huntington Beach Elks Lodge, 7711 Talbert Ave, where participants pick up their ride pin and enjoy breakfast for $10. Riders will leave the lodge at 9:15 a.m. and travel to the Orangewood Children’s Home to deliver the toys and other donations. From there, riders will travel to Balboa Island and then to Main Street in Huntington Beach where the ride ends.

Several years ago, when the motorcycles consumed Balboa Island bumper to bumper, Frank decided to take Balboa Island off the route the following year because he felt it was unfair to the businesses and residents.

When the spectators lined the streets the following year and the Santas failed to show up, the mayor contacted Frank and expressed his disappointment. Frank added Balboa Island back on the route the following year.

At the end of the Santa Ride, Frank invites riders to travel to Hell’s Kitchen Motorsports Bar and Grill, 32685 Ortega Hwy., Lake Elsinore, for lunch.

Participants dressed as Santa will receive 20 percent off their bill and 30 percent of the sales will be donated to a local children’s organization.

The restaurant is owned by Frank and Trevor, now 21 years old, who purchased it in 2017. The restaurant opened its doors six months later. Three months after opening, the Holy Fire erupted in Lake Elsinore.

Frank and Trevor ignored the mandatory evacuation orders and instead kept the doors open 24 hours a day to offer refuge and free meals to the first responders. “Once the evacuation became mandatory, it was just us up there,” said Frank. “It’s what had to be done.”

On Oct. 3, Frank and Trevor were honored by the City of Canyon Lake for helping the first responders. The City of Lake Elsinore also honored the father and son.

It’s been a tough year for the Opps, who say they are looking forward to spreading some cheer on Christmas Eve.  For more information about the Santa Ride, visit hbsantaclausride.com.

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