Surf’s up in Cali. On Monday, Governor Jerry Brown signed a bill which solidified surfing as the State of California’s official sport. The bill celebrates surfing as “iconic” in California’s history, culture, and economy, but still acknowledges the Polynesian origins of the sport.
Surfing has been an important part of Polynesian culture dating back hundreds, if not thousands of years. On a busy Saturday in 1885, the sport made its first appearance in California. Three Hawaiian princes who were students at a boarding school in San Mateo brought custom redwood boards with them to the beach in Santa Cruz and started riding the swells much to the amusement of local onlookers.
It wasn’t for another 22 years that surfing truly started to find a new home when George Freeth moved from Oahu to Redondo Beach in 1907. “The Father of Modern Surfing” cut the traditional 16 foot-long boards in half to create the first longboards, and in doing so, opened up Southern California to the sport which would define the state’s beach town lifestyle.
Fast forward another 101 years, and the sport is now a $6 billion a year industry and a cultural icon of the West Coast. Travel to any California beach today, and odds are the surfers outnumber the swimmers.
With 1,100 miles of stunning coastline, California is home to some of the world’s best beaches for surfing. There are far too many great beaches to list them all (not to mention plenty of locals who would be angry at us for divulging their secret surf hideaways), so we’ll stick with the top five most iconic surf sports.
Beautiful Malibu is home to famous celebrities, but also “the most famous wave in the world”. Just outside of the hustle and bustle of Los Angeles, this small beachside community is a great place to catch some waves and maybe even a glimpse of a movie star. Surfrider Beach is a great place for surfers of all experience levels, just make sure you’re ready to deal with some crowds.
Located halfway between Ventura and Santa Barbara, Rincon is a spot that has seen plenty of great developments in surfing history. The waves roll off around a point that juts into the water and provides a steady stream of great California breaks. The crowd at Rincon is there to surf, so if you’re learning or on a stand-up paddle (SUP), it might be best to find another spot.
At the very southern edge of Orange County is the sleepy surfer town of San Clemente, home to some of the best breaks in the world. Trestles is located at the San Clemente city limits and requires a short hike through some brush and down the cliffs. However, this doesn’t mean this is somewhere to beat the crowds. Even this quiet surf spot can easily get crowded by dozens of surfers looking to catch one of San Clemente’s beautiful breaks. The beach has also drawn professional competitions so it’s sandy shores, like the ASP World Tour and NSSA Nationals.
Mavericks is not for the faint of heart. This spot off the coast of Half Moon Bay is home to California’s largest swells. In winter, surfers come from all over the world to test their limits on waves that can regularly reach over 50 feet, requiring them to be towed out by jetski. Absolutely do not even try surfing here unless you’re a seasoned veteran, as these waves have claimed the lives of multiple individuals over the years.
There really isn’t another option for the #1 spot than “Surf City USA”. The consistent, even breaks at Huntington have been drawing surfers here for decades. It is also the reason why it is home to the surfing world championships. The town of Huntington Beach is also the quintessential California surfer town, making it a must on any surfing tour of Southern California.
With a colorful history and a legacy that’s now etched in the state’s legal code, surfing is set to be the defining sport of California culture for the foreseeable future. Anyone who’s been to California’s beaches knows that the waves on the East Coast just really can’t hold a candle to California’s picture-perfect breaks. Sounds like it’s time to strap the board on the roof and head to the Golden State’s sunny shores. Surf’s up.