I know this European surfer who wanted to take a trip in January. He didn’t care if it was a warm or cool water destination, he just wanted to get away from home, surf, and have fun. He had already been to the Caribbean and Morocco, and was looking for somewhere new.
As it turned out, he ended up sitting on his ass for the entire duration of his trip. This is because he chose the North Shore of Oahu as his destination, and he arrived just in time for one of those massive, rainy, trade-wind-ridden surf patterns—just full-on diarrhea at sea.
I knew from the get-go that he had made a bad decision, and not because of the weather. It was because I knew how this guy surfed, and realized that even if the conditions were better, he wouldn’t have enjoyed himself. When it comes to most surfers’ abilities, macking Hawaii and fun sessions are mutually exclusive.
While he sat indoors on Oahu, the place I had suggested he go—California—was going off. The same giant, blown-out swells that he was enduring on the Islands were being met by perfect conditions up and down the West Coast. Day after day we saw clean, roping surf at every point, reef, and beachbreak.
When it comes to epic surf trips, California is not even on the world’s radar. Despite offering 700 miles of surf possibilities and a veritable abundance of amazing side-trips, people from other countries don’t even consider it.
Without much doubt, this is due to how California, particularly Southern California, is portrayed by the surf media. More often than not, it’s shown as this ultra-crowded, localized Mecca of fast food and freeways. A place where your chances of having a good surf trip are similar to a snowball’s in hell.
Personally, I find this impression a bit ironic because I think it’s nearly the opposite—from December through March, California is one of the best places you could travel. If you know what you’re doing, you will not only find clean, relatively uncrowded surf, but you can find waves that match your ability.
Nevertheless, it seems that California’s surf reputation has been cemented, and maybe that’s a good thing. Maybe being overlooked by the rest of the world has made our home a more worthwhile—and stealthy—place to live and surf.
So in tribute to the oft-overlooked quality of the Golden State, may I present a four-part gallery of California surf images.