When I first arrived in California the immigration officer greeted me with the traditional “welcome to California”.
I had no idea of what to expect since Obama had won the election and it was 2009. The last time I was in the USA was back in 2006, it was all very relaxed, personal on this visit and maybe this is just because a new President was in charge, but then again I have always found Americans are general at least at face value the loveliest of people. From the moment you step out of the airport, the California way of life hits you. Within minutes I had seen five cars with surfboards on top drive past and I just couldn’t wait to start my Californian surf surfari.
Flying into San Francisco is always a great pleasure: the new Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) has finally opened from the city centre to the airport so it has never been easier to get from SFO to Pier 39! What is Pier 39 I hear you ask, well lets just say it’s the place to hang out if you’re a tourist visiting the city with the derelict prison of Alcatraz as a backdrop, the view of the golden gate bridge as another backdrop and a lot of cool chicks walking about, you kind of get drawn to the place by every tram anyway, so you can’t avoid it!
The following morning I picked up my Chevy and headed off down the coast on Pacific Highway 1 to Santa Cruz, the start of my whistle stop California tour. The luxury about surfing California is that surprisingly it is not full of surfers and the choice of spots is endless, well it always seems that way anyway. In over 15 years of visiting California I have only actually met one other UK surfer in the water so compared to Indonesia etc… Its paradise!
Santa Cruz is a cool, very green, redwood shingled beach town that is home to some epic surf spots and some rather famous surfers like Richard Schmidt. The Santa Cruz municipal pier features restaurants, fish markets and excellent fishing facilities but I was not here for any of these I was here for surfing.
Steamer Lane is world famous for its kelp covered reefs and point breaks all located to the west of the main town. The water is cold compared to southern California but to a hardy European surfer it’s just like a spring surf or early summer with an average of 14c water temperature. The surf is clear and powerful and to be honest is so refreshing to cut back and just glide the line ahead of the curl. Steamer Lane has always stolen the limelight for surfing this region but it’s the other spots you will find just as much excitement such as “The River mouth” located by the San Lorenzo River. This river splits the town in two and with the correct combination of river flow and swell you can experience perfect, hollow sandbar peaks at its mouth that make any trip to this region well worth the effort.
After 5 days of total surf elation in Santa Cruz it was time to move south to warmer water and cli¬mate of Huntington Beach in Orange County just south of Los Angeles. A good 9 hour drive from Santa Cruz and eventually I pull up outside my hotel to the sound of Surf crashing on the beach across the road. As I had travelled down I had noticed the continual swell following me in fact the closer it got to dusk and to LA the greater the swell height, so an early night was in store for the morning dawn patrol.
The following morning a continual knocking on the bedroom door wakes me. Oh! Jeez did I break the speed limit driving down last night and the local law enforcement guys have finally tracked me down. I open the door rather cagey, just in case, to see a beaming smile from my surf crazed Californian friend. Jeff is a former Professional and his hometown is Huntington Beach so who better than to catch the first morning rays with than a good old friend, and not too bad a surfer at that…
Huntington is simply Surf City. If you think Newquay is cool in Britain then you are in for a major culture shock in Huntington Beach. It is home to some of the best surf shops in the world and the surf community is laid back and very friendly, surf cafés serve such drinks called “dawn patrol” coffee and “pipeline” donuts for breakfast. The Pier is one of the most famous surf spots in the world; many an international contest has been held here and can work on any tide and any swell, I remember visiting here in the 1980’s to see the infamous Ocean Pacific “OP” pros on the Bud Pro Tour (all a thing of the past now of course). It’s very reliable and super consistent on both sides of the pier. After two hours of perfect barrels and sexy bikini clad women on the beach we took a short drive along the highway to Newport Beach.
Despite only being a couple miles down the road it is just angled a little different and does not always have the same swell or the same even surf height as other spots. Newport Beach is a beach break interspersed with a number of jetties. In front of me hollow peaks were peeling beautifully along the line at 6ft clean, the rest is history.
The following morning we made our way straight to Newport Point. A rare spot at the best of times; why Jeff thought it was going to produce something I don’t know but as he was the local, I was not going to argue. The spot is renown for producing Pipeline style barrels during large Southerly swells and as the tide was Iow all the combinations were perfect for a wave, or so Jeff kept on saying on the short drive to the spot from Huntington.
Well it was not pipeline today, but a good solid 6ft wave breaking right opposite 18th street, what more could we ask for the only problem being that even at 6.30am I could count at least 35 out but what the heck, space for another 2 and having surfed Fistral in Newquay with 500 what is 35! Three hours later and a hundred others in the water, Jeff decides to see if all us Europeans are made of steel… naturally I tell him of course comrade. Off to “The Wedge” we go or at least in the hope of finding a small wave that will totally destroy my longboard.
The Wedge is the world famous freak wave that bodysurfers and body boarders alike simply love, it picks you up, throws you round a bit and then totally puts you in traction if you put a finger wrong. For surfers it’s a nightmare come true, but for long boarders its total suicide. Luckily for me my challenge was to be put off for another time as it only breaks on a big Southerly swell. Of course I did myself proud and made a comment about how lucky it was that I did not embarrass the Californians to have a quality European surfer smoothly drop down the sheer cliff like face and tuck into the mega barrel popping out the end with style and all on my 9ft 2″ robert august board…
Visiting California is a truly enjoyable experience, in the winter it’s still mild 65F to 75F and in the summer it sees temperatures that can exceed 90F. It is such a diverse state that you can surf and snowboard in the same day if you wish and it’s the true modern surf Mecca that really should be top of everyone’s list, it amazes me when everyone heads to other spots round the world before visiting the modern home of surfing – simply California. So start planning your trip now to one of the many surf spots in California where the modern era of surfing was born!