Surfing in Northern California
Surf review: Ocean Beach. Ratings include Kook factor, Hostility, Shark Alert, and a bonus etiquette tip.
Well friends, Iím back after a little break. It seems my work and surfing were taking up a little more time than I realized. However, I just quit my job and my board hit me in the face (five stitches and a little scar later) so Iíve been out of the water and have had some time to write again. And yes, I know summerís over but we're here in Northern California so youíre supposed to like cold water.
Below are some of my favorite surf spots on the coast. And, as before, if the surf proves to be too much, Iíve included some other diversions.
-Pillar Point Harbor/the jetty: Right past the harbor in Half Moon Bay. Probably the most pathetic valley/kook infested surf spot on the coast, but good for beginners or people who are too drunk to drive any further. I suggest parking your car out of sight so nobody recognizes you if you do choose to stop.
Kook factor: Off the scale-Most of the Hillsdale Mall is here.
Hostility: High, only because all the surfers suck, have no possibility of getting better, and know it.
Shark factor: Unfortunately, very low.
-Mavericks/Rossís Cove: Donít bother unless youíre in the ASP Top 20, or a mad-dog local. However, if you just want to go and check it out, go to the backside of the harbor, drive along the airport and youíll come to a parking lot. Hide your valuables and hike to the top of the cliffs and you get a good view. Bring binoculars.
Kook Factor: Generally non-existent, because the kooks would die.
Hostility: Wouldnít know because Iím too scared to surf here, but I imagine it is pretty volatile.
Shark Factor: Mid-high-Iíve heard rumors of sightings and it is nice and deep, but so far so good.
-State Beach: Half Moon Bay: Drive down Hwy. 1 about 10 minutes from the harbor, go right past the horse rental place and youíll see the signs for the beach. Go down a gravel road to the parking lot, and if youíve been drinking, Iíd suggest driving fast and trying to get sideways on the road because if the surf is not good, this is going to be the most fun you have today.
This is a screaming hollow beach break. Itís pretty fast and I canít say Iíve had much fun here. But when itís good, itís on. Also, itís one of the few places Iíve seen packs of dolphins in Northern California.
Kook Factor: Low- No chicks here to see how cool the surfers are.
Hostility: Low/Med-See kooks above.
Shark factor: Low. Shallow, sandy bottom. Besides Flipper will fight them off.
-Tanidas Creek: Drive down Hwy. 1 about 20 minutes south of Half Moon Bay. Youíll go down a largeish hill and come to a bridge and there you should see the road sign. Park wherever and find your way down. Iíve never surfed here, but have heard itís got a pretty good peak. Itís right by a river mouth, so I imagine there are a lot of good sandbars. However, I don't doubt the local factor is high, and there was a great white attack here several years ago.
Kook Factor: Low/doesnít exist
Hostility: Probably high but depends on how much the locals have been smoking.
Shark factor: Bring a first aid kit along.
-San Gregorio: About 10 minutes from Tenidas Creek. This is a big open beach with lots of shifty peaks. Itís a sand bottom, but it has a pretty mellow drop so itís not too hollow. There are ferocious rips and the wind can suck. Iíve never had that much fun here and unfortunately this is the first beach you get to from the Peninsula. There are lots of students lingering about talking about indie rock and term papers. However, if you get bored with surfing, drive about 5 minutes east on hwy 84 and there is a really cool general store. They usually have some sort of indie/folk music on; thereís a bar and some very funky things to browse through. Itís been overrun with peaceful, nice people but you get the occasional drunken farmer/biker and their dogs causing chaos. Again, it has a bar.
Kook Factor: Can really vary so bring some mace along just for fun.
Hostility: Not really a problem here.
Shark Factor: Never heard of any sightings or attacks, but hey you could be the first on your block.
- A few hills away and you get to Pomponio. This beach rules! Hardly ever a crowd (or good surf) but when itís on, itís unreal. Usually on the south side, thereís a left that comes at you like a freight train. Hollow, fast and dangerous. In front of the parking lot can be good, but the peaks move around a lot and you have to be an Olympic paddler. Beware of fishing boats gutting their catch a few hundred yards away.
Kook factor: Non-existent, they all stopped at San Gregorio.
Hostility: Very rare-as long as youíre cool, people are happy to have the company.
Shark factor: Beware. No hits, but it is deep and close to seal land.
-Pescadero State beach: As you leave Pomponio, drive about 10 minutes south and when you see the beach with the huge rocks (and sign) you know you're there. If you see redneck mobiles and their potential drivers in the water, this beach is better off avoided. Otherwise, its got a pretty good peak and the paddle out is not so bad. There are a lot of rocks however and if you donít kick out in time you run the risk of serious injury. Also, numerous shark sightings, but no attacks yet. If youíre not up to the challenge, try going into the town of Pescadero. There are some pretty cool antique stores, great fruit/veggie stands and a wonderfully colorful bar/restaurant called Duartes (doo-arts). Good food, and very fun bar. Several years ago an angry local came in shooting because he had been refused service. Needless to say you always get served no matter how drunk you are.
Kook factor: None
Hostility: Watch out for people who make their living selling firewood.
Shark Factor: First aid kit should be handy.
-Pigeon Pt. Lighthouse: Drive about 10 minutes south from Pescadero and youíll come to a lighthouse. The lighthouse doubles as a youth hostel and makes a damn fine picture/painting. However, try to avoid running over patchouli oil wearing hostel-goers. On the south side of the lighthouse you get sporadic surf. Iíve only surfed here a few times, but itís pretty harry. Shifty peaks, lots of reefs/rocks and enough sea life to make a documentary. Also, there have been several white sightings in this area and an abalone diver was killed here several years ago. If youíre not up to the challenge there is a pretty nice trail to run/walk down and itís a good spot to chill and gather your thoughts.
Kook Factor: Zero, they wouldnít dare.
Shark Factor: Keep the kit handy.
-Ano (anyo) Nuevo: Now were talking baby. Drive about 20 minuteís south from the Lt. House and youíll see Ano. Among other things, this is a state elephant seal breeding ground, so you should definitely check it out. Iíve never surfed here, but have checked it out many times. Beware! Touring pros and angry SC locals are known to troll this beach. Itís a shallow beach break thatís supposed to be unreal. People have been chased out of the water by large, yes, large white sharks. I suggested taking the tour.
Kook factor: Darwinism back at work.
Hostility: Hornets nest.
Shark factor: Is your will in order?
-Wadell Creek: Just down the road a bit (south) from Ano, is Wadell Creek. This is a great beach and runs along a majestic coast/cliff line. There are several places to surf, so just pick one. There are intermittent reefs and sandbars, so you get the best of both worlds here. Itís a huge open beach, so even when itís crowded you can find your own peak. The downside is that according to a researcher at the Steinhart aquarium (quoted in Surfer, or Surfing a few years ago) this is one of the most likely places in the red triangle to get struck. It hasnít happened yet, but the waters are teaming with seals and sea lions and there are always sightings here. Between the seals, reefs and relatively clear water, the whites love it. You can park along the road, or go down to the main parking lot. If windy and blown out try and run over/crush at least one windsurfer as you maneuver through their mini-vans into the parking lot. If youíve recently watched Jaws and are feeling a little phobic, right across from the parking lot is a wonderful hiking/biking trail. It winds and twists (pretty mildly) up through towering redwoods and an hour hike is rewarded with a stunning view of the forest/ocean. If youíre feeling especially rugged, the trail goes through to skyline (26 or so miles away) and there are camp sights provided along the way.
Kook Factor: Rare/except for the windsurfers.
Hostility: Can run high if you crowd someone.
Shark Factor: pre-order your life flight.
-Big Creek: Just south of Wadell. What can I say, but itís named after the lumberyard. Iíve never surfed here and probably wonít.
Kook Factor: NA
Shark Factor: NA but Iíll guess itís pretty damn high.
-4 mile/3 mile. These are basically 3 and 4 miles outside of the Santa Cruz City limits. Just look for all the shiny new SUVís with racks and youíll know your there. Iíve never surfed here, but itís a haven for Los Gatos kids. Also a favorite place for angry SC locals to come and steal the Los Gatos kids' girlfriends. Rumor has it that a lot of faces/boards get broken here and not by the surf. Itís supposed to be good, but why bother. Besides itís a long wait for the ambulance.
Kook Factor: High, regardless of how well they surf.
Shark Factor: Occasional sightings, but it doesnít matter because some drunk local will break your board, steal your chick, drink your beer, key your car, break your antenna and slash your tires before you have a chance to paddle out.
Santa Cruz: Iím sure you all know some of the spots around SC (naturalbridges/thelane/26th St./the hook/pleasure pt.) but for the beginners in your group, Cowls is really the spot. Itís inside Steamers Lane and a great beginners/longboarders. Thereís usually parking and itís a got a pretty cool view of the boardwalk. Very mellow crowd, so I suggest hiding your shortboards and taking some Nyquil before paddling out.
Kook Factor: High, but who cares. Odds are if youíre surfing here, your one of them.
Hostility: Low, unless youíre on a short board.
Shark Factor: Very low, theyíre afraid of the longboards.
-Manreesa: This is about 15-20 minutes south of SC. You should see the signs from the freeway. A good beach for everyone. Itís a sandy bottom beach break with lots of parking and a varied crowd. Tons Oí longboards. There have been a few white sightings, but who cares? There are plenty of kids in the water to draw attention away from you.
Kook Factor: Differs on every peak.
Hostility: Same as above.
Shark Factor: Med.
Good luck and let me know how you all fair out there.
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