Chasing Mavericks: Surfing in Northern California

The swell had finally hit.

Steamer Lane was 6 to 8 feet on the sets with fun waves and not that many people out. My sons Israel (16), Daniel (14) and I quickly donned our wetsuits and jumped into the lineup.

We were on the second part of our Thanksgiving week excursion up the coast of California to visit college campuses in the world’s best public university system (Israel is a junior in high school) and hopefully catch a few waves.

Before heading north, we checked out Southern California schools and surf spots.

Jumping off of the rocks at Steamer Lane.

Jumping off of the rocks at Steamer Lane.

My wife, Emily, flew into San Francisco the day before Thanksgiving and we planed to join my dad, my brother and the rest of our family for a feast.

The Lane, a World Surfing Reserve, is ground zero for Northern California surf culture (technically it is Central California—but I’m calling Santa Cruz and SF Northern Cal). It is a frenetic beehive of surfers, waves, coastal culture, and surf-gazing tourists.

It is the Main Street of surfing in the United States, with a lighthouse and panoramic view for the wave-filled lineup of Monterey Bay. I couldn’t think of a nicer place to spend an afternoon.

198290_309388585841630_2071544020_n

While the boys gleefully jumped off Lighthouse Point and into the Slot, I carefully walked down the upper staircase and delicately threaded my way down the rocks and into the lineup at The Point.

While I fought the crowd for a few lined-up rights, the boys snagged set waves, then found waves to take them inside, where they would run up the inner staircase,  back to the outer rocks, fling themselves back into the lineup and start all over again. Grom heaven.

After a couple of hours at the Lane, we hurried northward along the Pacific Coast Highway. Our destination was Half Moon Bay and Pillar Point, home to Mavericks, one of the world’s most infamous and challenging big-wave surf spots.

After hitting a bizarre pre-Thanksgiving traffic jam in Half Moon Bay (which is literally in the middle of nowhere), we found the Mav’s parking lot at the base of Pillar Point.

The boys with Greg Long.

The boys with Greg Long.

The boys ran down the trail ahead of me.

“Hey, Dad,” said Israel, running back toward me after a couple of minutes on the trail. “That’s Greg Long,” he said, pointing to a lone surfer walking down the beach carrying a big-wave gun.

And sure enough, we were lucky to catch a moment with one of the world’s best big-wave surfers.

“The waves are coming up,” Long said. “It’s not super big, but I wanted to get ready for tomorrow.”

Sunset at Mavericks.

Sunset at Mavericks.

All I can say about Mavericks is that I have a deep well of respect for the surfers who challenge themselves on what has to be one of the gnarliest and most difficult waves to surf on the coast of California.

The rocks, the waves, the paddle, the sharks, and the boils come together to make it a true surfing gauntlet.

As the sun set, the boys and I joined a couple of locals and a group of Japanese surfers on the cliff above the beach and watched 12- to 15-foot waves pour through the surf zone.

It was gnarly. And it wasn’t even that “big.”

485030_309927669121055_1576734659_n

For the next two days, in between wonderful meals at my brother’s house, the boys and I enjoyed great waves at Fort Point and Ocean Beach in San Francisco. We couldn’t have been more stoked.

60497_309927732454382_551088959_n

So for those of you who spend your time and money searching the world for great waves and adventure, make sure you haven’t overlooked our wonderful surf-filled state.

396673_309927975787691_1312602472_n

Saving our Surfing Heritage Through World Surfing Reserves

One of the most innovative tools for the conservation of surf spots has been the development of Surfing Reserves. Pioneered by Brad Farmer in Australia, the Davenport-based Save the Waves Coalition has taken the lead on organizing the development of a global network of World Surfing Reserves.

Serge Dedina: Why do surfing areas need to be designated as Surfing Reserves?

Katie Westfall: Natural surf breaks are important public recreational resources. Unspoiled surf spots are unique and rare and important for their ecosystem services, recreational, aesthetic, educational, and economic values. On a global scale, surf breaks have been destroyed by coastal development and threatened by water quality issues or closure of beach access. In California alone, several surf spots have been destroyed along the coastline, including Killer Dana and Corona del Mar in Orange County and Stanely’s in Ventura County. Through World Surfing Reserves (WSR), we are proactively working to prevent this from happening to the most amazing surfing areas on the globe.

Dedina: What does a World Surfing Reserve status mean?

Westfall: Designation as a World Surfing Reserve means that an area has been formally recognized by a worldwide group of experts, the World Surfing Reserve Vision Council, as a globally significant surfing ecosystem. Once approved, the local community makes a long-term commitment to protect the area’s coastal and marine resources and creates a Local Stewardship Plan that outlines exactly how this commitment will be carried out. World Surfing Reserves staff in turn helps to build the capacity of the local community in threat response, stewardship, and community outreach and education, which are the three elements that form the fabric of managing a World Surfing Reserve.

Ericeira World Surfing Reserve, Portugal. Source: World Surfing Reserves.


Dedina: Where did the concept of surfing reserves come from?

Westfall: Surfing reserves can be traced back to the 1973 when the Victorian government in Australia officially established the first reserve at Bells Beach. National Surfing Reserves Australia (NSR) was formed in 2005, which was a pioneering program that created a blueprint for surfing reserves in Australia.

In 2009, Save The Waves Coalition partnered with NSR Australia and the International Surfing Association (ISA) to launch World Surfing Reserves, with the goal of adding layers of protection to world’s most iconic surf breaks and educating people about the tremendous value of these special places.”

Bell's Beach, the world's first Surfing Reserve. The area is now threatened.

Dedina: Are there more than one type of surfing reserve?

Westfall: Reserves can either designate an individual “wave break,” which includes just one surf spot, or can designate a “surf zone,” which includes multiple waves along the coast. The two types of Reserves are essentially managed in the same way.
Dedina: What surf spots globally and in California are now World Surfing Reserves?

Westfall: Currently, three World Surfing Reserves have been officially dedicated including Malibu in California, Ericeira in Portugal, and Manly Beach in Australia. Santa Cruz has been approved and will be dedicated as a World Surfing Reserve on April 28th. The official dedication ceremony for Santa Cruz will include an evening fundraiser on Friday, April 27th as well as the official dedication on April 28th, with a paddle out at the Pleasure Point at 10am and a ceremony at Steamer Lane at 1pm. The general public is invited to attend all the events of the dedication ceremony. For more information about the event, people can visit the WSR website.

Dedina: What is the process for evaluating and then designating a World Surfing Reserve?

Westfall: Communities interested in designating their local break or breaks as a World Surfing Reserve will first submit a brief Letter of Inquiry (LOI) to World Surfing Reserves. If the LOI meets the minimum criteria, then communities are invited to submit a full application to World Surfing Reserves. The WSR Vision Council, which is a global group of leaders from the surfing, environmental, scientific, media and business communities, then votes on whether or not the application is approved. The application is evaluated by four criteria: 1) quality and consistency of the wave or surf zone; 2) unique environmental characteristics of the area; 3) surf and ocean culture and history of the area; and 4) local community support.

Manly Beach World Surfing Reserve.


Dedina: Is the key criteria having a local stakeholder/stewardship group?

Westfall: Local community support for establishing a World Surfing Reserve is one of the main criteria for approval. Applicants must show broad support from local businesses, community groups, nonprofits, governmental agencies, etc. Once a World Surfing Reserve has been approved, a Local Stewardship Council, a group of seven members from the local community, is created and oversees the management of the Reserve. It is very much a grassroots effort dependent on support at the local level.

Killer Dana, before the Dana Point Marina killed it. This was a complex and important coastal and marine ecosystem. Now it is one of the most polluted areas on the Southern California coastline.


Dedina: Some have criticized World Surfing Reserves as having little teeth to prevent threats. Are there concrete examples of WSR status helping to reduce a threat or enhancing a surf spot’s conservation status?

Westfall: We see the WSR designation as a starting point rather than the finish line. We are planting the seeds of surf spot protection in the four WSR sites, and Local Stewardship Councils have been established for each site. These members serve as the guardians of the Reserve. These councils are identifying the needs for increased protection, which may include more stewardship, policymaking, better coastal planning, etc. The program is still in its infancy, and in the next couple of years we will be able to assess if these efforts are leading to more effective threat responses and increased stewardship of the coast and ocean.

WSR is essentially creating community around the protection of valuable surfing resources and increasing the number of tools available. Even locations that have significant legal protection can come under threat, but the more tools, resources, and people you have, the better chance you will have of defeating that threat. As the late Peter Douglas said, “The coast is never saved. It’s always being saved.” The same goes for waves.

Serge Dedina is the Executive Director of WiLDCOAST, an international conservation team that conserves coastal and marine ecosystems and widlife and is the author of Wild Sea: Eco-Wars and Surf Stories from the Coast of the Californias.

The Best Winter Surf Destinations

Serge Dedina during the recent Thanksgiving swell. Photo: Alan Jackson

From my Patch.com column this week.

This past Thanksgiving weekend swell—arguably the best run of clean waves and conditions we’ve had since Labor Day–was a great reminder why winter is the best time in California and much of the northern hemisphere to be a surfer.

Swells from the northern and western Pacific batter the coast. Offshore winds blow out of the canyons, creating perfect surfing conditions.

Although the water is cold, with a good wetsuit and attitude, you can surf for hours.

The winter surf season from November through March—is not only a great time to surf your homebreak and to visit nearby spots, it is also a great time to explore the California coastlline and the planet to catch great waves and visit beautiful beaches.

Serge Dedina surfing during the recent Thanksgiving swell. Photo: Alan Jackson.

Here are some winter destination spots in California and globally that are worth a visit.

Rincon: This Queen of the Coast that is located between Ventura and Santa Barbara and is California’s best point break, comes alive during the winter surf season. Best bet is to visit after a long run of swell midweek, when it will be less crowded. Be on the lookout for some of the world’s best surfers in the lineup including Kelly Slater, Tom Curren, Shaun Tomson and Bobby Martinez. And then explore the plethora of great surf spots and picturesque coastline from Ventura to Gaviota State Park.

Rincon fun. Photo: Jason Stutz.

Black’s: Located just north of La Jolla and south of Torrey Pines, Black’s sucks in north swells and spits out beautiful A-frames and shimmering walls. Although it is bound to be crowded with local surfers who rip, it is worth the walk down the trail to get a chance to catch a few of Black’s beautiful waves. Lookout for the resident peregrine falcons that inhabit the cliffs above the beach.

Santa Cruz: The next location for a World Surfing Reserve, Steamer Lane and the waves of Santa Cruz offer winter size, consistency and due to the plentiful kelp and prevailing winds, great conditions that making surfing all day a possibility. The crowds are fierce, the locals shred, but if you are lucky you’ll snag a few great point waves at our state’s true surf city.

Hawaii: Pick the west and north shores of Oahu, Kauai, and Maui and you are bound to find the biggest and most challenging waves of your life in warm tropical waters. There are probably no other locations to surf that are as majestic as Hanalei Bay on Kauai or Honalua Bay on Maui. Just remember to visit after the contest and holiday seasons are over.

Daniel Dedina surfing on Oahau.

Mexico: North and west swells can hit the coast from Nayarit down to northern Oaxaca. Winter is a great time to longboard the points or find great beachbreaks for shortboards and barrels. Expat surf villages such as Sayulita, Troncones and Saladita offer cool surf-style accommodations and a variety of waves. Exploring the coast and going off the beaten track is worth the effort.

The point at Saladita.

Peru. Legendary left points in northern Peru such as Mancora and Cabo Blanco turn on during north swells. The water is warm and there are plenty of places to find uncrowded waves. When I lived in Peru for a year in the mid-80s I spend a week in northern Peru in December and scored some of the best and most hollow waves of my life. Just don’t forget to take the time to visit Cuzco and Machu Pichu or the amazing Andean peaks of the Cordillera Blanca around Huaraz.

Serge Dedina surfing Cabo Blanco, Peru.

Morocco. The newest and hippest surf destination, the hollow right points north of Agadir are a lot like Baja’s north coast, with similar weather and water temps. Like Peru, this is a country where leaving the surf for a few days or more is worth it. Morocco is an amazing country, filled with stunning and historic cities such as Marrakech and Essaouira. Take the time to head east of Marrakech over the mountains to explore the Route of the Kasbahs and the Sahara.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 970 other followers

%d bloggers like this: