The Top Springtime Surf Destinations

A reef slab somewhere in NSW, Australia.

A reef slab somewhere in NSW, Australia.

In the past few weeks little pulses of southern hemisphere swell energy have lit up the reefs, points and beaches of the Pacific Coast from Chile to Canada. San Diego does especially well this time of the year with combo swells firing up beach breaks across the county. Here’s a guide to your best travel choices to catch springtime swells.

Trestles: You’re going to fight crowds and the some of the world’s best surfers at the top of their game. But if you want to surf some of the best lined up waves designed for high-performance surfing, than Trestles—Middles, Lowers, Uppers, and Cottons—is the best game around. Don’t like crowds—then surf at midnight. Just remember that we all need to fight to Save Trestles.

WCT surfer Heitor Alves was ripping. He made this.

WCT surfer Heitor Alves was ripping at Trestles. He made this.

San Diego County Beachbreaks: Our more than 70 miles of coastline suck in combo swells this time of the year. Beachbreaks especially do well in the springtime when multi-directional ground and wind swells can make random beachies fire for a couple of hours or a few days.

Baja: Southern Baja can light up with southern hemi swells. The surf can go from flat to overhead in a few hours and then die just as fast. Winds are notoriously fickle on the Pacific side and water temps plummet through June. The dreaded northeasterly winds on the East Cape can kill your epic session in about five minutes. Baja has a rhythm all its own but bring along a fishing pole, SUP, and a friendly attitude, you won’t be sorry.

Serge Dedina dawn patrols remote Baja

Serge Dedina dawn patrols remote Baja

Vancouver Island: Snow capped peaks, bald eagles, friendly surfers, fun beachbreaks and mysto reefs, along with great springtime snowboard and ski runs make this Canadian adventure outpost worth a visit. Great food and arguably some of the most beautiful surfing vistas on the planet make this island and its wave-riding capital of Tofino one of the most unusual and worthwhile surf destinations in North America.

It is cold but beautiful on Vancouver Island. Somewhere near Tofino.

It is cold but beautiful on Vancouver Island. Somewhere near Tofino.

Mainland Mexico: Pick a point or beachbreak. There is a reason why some of the world’s best and bravest surfers flock to iconic and heavy waves like Pascuales and Zicatela. There is no other location on the planet where you can as easily and cheaply score barrels that can spit you out into the light of day or grind you into the sand. The mellow points and reefs of Punta de Mita, Saladita and Sayulita offer a more fun reality for less danger inclined surfers. All in all, mainland Mexico is arguably the most cost effective and wave-worthy destination on the planet. If you’re adventurous there are thousands of miles (literally) of wave-rich coastline that largely go unridden.

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Central and South America: Pick a country. Chile for long left points and the opportunity to ski and board early season snow. Peru for even longer lefts and the world’s best ceviche. Nicaragua for offshore A-frames and El Salvador for perfect but crowded right points. Ecuador is the newest surf destination with warm water, consistent waves and a friendly vibe.

Australia and New Zealand: Unfortunately prices have shot up, so make plans to camp and cook your own food, but with some of the world’s most beautiful and iconic landscapes and diversity of waves, Oz and Kiwi-Land are great surf and adventure travel destinations.

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Why you travel to Australia-it doesn’t get any better than this.

So get out there. Whether you’re at La Jolla Shores, Bells or Chicama, remember that the more experiences and adventures you have, the happier you will be. And congrats to Brazilian surfer turned San Clemente local Adriano de Souza for his victory at the Bells Rip Curl Pro and all of the other ASP surfers for putting in awe-inspiring performances at one the world’s most iconic surf contest venues.

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The Swell Chasers

From my IB Patch Southwest Surf column May 26, 2011:

Last Thursday, when the first real south swell of the season hit, the beach was closed in Imperial Beach. No roping lefts off the pier, or grinding tubes at the south end of the beach.

Shane Landry scores a left.

Luckily Zach Plopper and I happened to have a meeting at the WiLDCOAST office in Ensenada. We decided to try our surfing luck on the way home.

We headed north to check out San Miguel. The surf was washed out. So we turned around to check out a nearby reef.

The surf was firing and the lineup was empty. The reef offered up a fun selection of 4-5 foot, semi-lined up and punchy lefts.

Again on Friday, serendipity played a role in finding great waves.

On Thursday evening, an old friend, Greg Tate, arrived for a visit. Greg’s a backyard shaper and goofy foot from Florida.

Israel, Greg and Daniel.

Israel, Greg, and Daniel at Scripps Pier with boards Greg shaped.

Twelve hours after his plane touched down at San Diego International Airport, we found ourselves traipsing down the trail to Trestles, and the surf exceeded our expectations.

The wind was offshore, the waves were hollow and the non-stop sets were way overhead.

Greg paddled out at Cotton’s. I needled my way through the lineup at Uppers.

While surfing I caught up with Mark Rauscher of the Surfrider Foundation. He  updated me on the still ongoing effort to prevent the Transportation Corridor Agencies (TCA) from building a toll-road through San Onofre Beach State Park, the home of Trestles.

“The TCA is still trying to get that toll road through. But we are monitoring them,” Mark said before catching a great set wave.

Nothing like talking about saving a surf spot while surfing epic waves at that very  break.

A few hours later Greg and I regrouped. Like everyone that morning we were both hammered by sets that swung wide and outside.

On the way home we stopped at Beacon’s in Leucadia for a surf check (the wind had come up so we didn’t paddle out) and ran into legendary IB surfer Shawn Holder, who now lives in North County, where he owns a Pannikin Coffee and Tea in Encinitas.

“I’ve been surfing and stand-up paddling northern Baja most of the winter. Most of the time I surf alone,” Shawn said, a former IB lifeguard captain who is still as stoked on the surf as ever.

On Saturday we returned to Trestles for an IB gromathon.

Surf dads Dave Lopez and Jason Stutz joined me in the lineup at Lowers along with grom squad members Daniel Dedina. Loukas Lopez, Vinnie Claunch, Noah Bender, Jake Stutz and Shane Landry. As usual the groms scored wave after wave on the inside.

After our session we picked up my son Israel at the CIF swim finals at Del Norte High School in Poway and drove to La Jolla. At the Scripps parking lot we ran into two hardcore members of the IB underground who raved out scoring perfect waves at a local reef the day before.

“Dude,” one of the surfers said, “We never even check IB when it is polluted. We don’t want to get sick.”

Scripps wasn’t working so we headed south to the La Jolla reefs. The boys found some fun lefts at an empty slab while Greg and I sat on a bench and watched the show.

On Sunday morning a southwest wind was blowing so we headed to La Jolla to see if we could snag some sideshore peaks. The ocean cooperated with A-frames up and down the beach, which brought out a moderate crowd and fun waves to play around in.

On the beach I found Craig Engelmann who I grew up with in IB. Now living in Coronado, Craig was carefully watching his son Casey surf with Israel and Daniel.

All in all it was a great weekend. Our sessions proved that despite the throngs of surfers that populate the beaches of Southern California, we can always find plenty of surfing opportunities at beaches south and north of Imperial Beach and Coronado.

Up the PCH

From my Southwest Surf Column of May 4, 2011:

When I learned to surf it was easier to cross the border to Baja then head north, where the rumors of ugly localism, crowds, and higher costs, dissuaded me and my friends from surfing Southern California’s iconic breaks.

So, I have never surfed Malibu, and I have only surfed Rincon in the past few years during the Sharing the Stoke Surf Classic.

But now that surfing Baja is not as fun -or as easy- as it used to be (and the fact that most of the spots between Tijuana-Ensenada are fenced off), I often head north with my two teenage sons and their friends. Especially when IB is polluted.

And, during Spring Break, IB was very polluted. So, I spent three days carting around my sons and their friends Shane Landry and Joe Fernandez to Scripps Pier, La Jolla Shores and Black’s for uncrowded and fun waves.

On the Thursday of Spring Break, my sons and I departed at 5 a.m. (a late start for us) on our way north to Santa Barbara. I was scheduled to give a talk to the Santa Barbara Chapter of the Surfrider Foundation that evening, and we planned to hit Trestles on the way up, then head north on the Pacific Coast Highway from Santa Monica to Santa Barbara.

Preparing to head down the trail.

Our first stop along the way was Trestles. Our session at Lowers proved why Surfline recently called it one of Southern California’s “most rippable Summertime attractions.” The mid-morning crowd at Lower’s was manageable, the water was in the low 60’s and the southern hemisphere swell provided great 3-5’ rippable walls.

My strategy at Lower’s is to sit inside the main local crew (who are usually friendly). I patiently wait for the swing sets or the waves the outside crew miss and if I’m lucky can get a great right all the way into the inside. The boys tend to sit on the inside with the grom pack and pick off the waves that everyone else misses.

After two hours, the boys and I headed back on the trail to the Christianitos parking lot. After loading up our gear in the pickup, we made it over to the Pipe’s Café, a true surfer hangout with giant photos of epic waves and surfers at Trestles lining its walls. The breakfast burritos the boys ordered were so big they couldn’t finish them (a historic first). I stuck with a veggie omelet.

The minute we hit the PCH from I-10 in Santa Monica, we were in the upscale world of Pacific Palisades. The upscale shops and houses that line the highway almost obscured Surfrider Beach at Malibu. But it was small and crowded. Not worth a stop after our session at Lower’s.

I hoped that Point Zero, Leo Carrillo or County Line would provide material for our second session of the day. Point Zero and Leo Carrillo were small. But County Line inexplicably had four-foot sets on the beach in front of the highway. The point itself had only one surfer and offered up clean 1-3’ rights.

Getting ready for a go-out at County Line.

The boys chose the beach break peaks. I paddled out on my new 6’2” Mini-Simmons and proceeded to catch about 8-10 fun rights for a quick 45-minute session. After surfing, we crossed the street to the legendary Neptune’s Net seafood restaurant that surfers have frequented since 1958. We scarfed down fish and chips, and a crab cake burger. It was a great finish to a fun session.

My talk in Santa Barbara went well, and the boys and I slept soundly after our long day and two surf sessions. The following day was to be the grand finale—a trip to the Hollister Ranch.

The Ranch

At the invitation of a Ranch resident we spent the morning cruising the amazingly beautiful and bucolic coastal seascape of Southern California’s only private coastal cattle ranch and super high-end coastal residential retreat (one estate is on the market for $22 million!). While the surf was small, the boys scored a fun 2-3’ session by themselves at Rights and Lefts.

As the boys, came in from their session, a pod of gray whales frolicked offshore. It was a fitting goodbye for a great trip along Southern California’s historic surf highway.

Interview With Sign-on-Diego

This interview was with Mike Lee, the main environmental reporter for the San Diego Union-Tribune.

Serge Dedina being interviewed by CNN-Mexico.

Few conservationists along San Diego County’s coastline cast a shadow longer than Serge Dedina, who grew up in Imperial Beach and runs the advocacy group Wildcoast out of his hometown.

Wildcoast’s activism spans both sides of the U.S.-Mexico border. Despite his efforts at preservation, Dedina said he has to travel some 200 miles down Baja California to reach what he considers the last remaining wild Pacific coastline.

In his new book, “Wild Sea: Eco-Wars and Surf Stories from the Coast of the Californias,” Dedina intertwines two of his favorite topics. Published by The University of Arizona Press, “Wild Sea” is due in February.

Q: What inspired you to write a book and why did you choose the subject you did?

A: It was important to document how we were able to conserve some of the most magical coastal places of the coast of California and Baja California. It was also important to report on how close we have come to losing some of these places.

Q: What are the most surprising things you learned about yourself and/or the environment as you wrote?

A: I learned that having a sense of humor and a sense of creative passion are key elements to helping conserve our coastline. I also learned that there are key places on our coast that define our coastal culture, our lives and our history, such as Rincon, Malibu, Trestles, Swami’s, Black’s, the Tijuana Sloughs, Punta Abreojos, Scorpion Bay and the East Cape.

These special places and our collective coastline must be restored and conserved — forever.

Q: The book has an intriguing subtitle. Do you see eco-wars and surf stories as separate elements or closely related?

A: If you look closely at the history and politics of conserving coastal California and Baja California you see the intersection of surfers, environmentalists, fishermen and everyday coastal residents attempting to hold on the last natural vestiges of our iconic coastline.

Whether it was efforts to save Trestles from a toll road, stop a breakwater in Imperial Beach, develop marine protected areas, or halt half-baked marina schemes in Baja California, passionate surfers who care about the coast and ocean have been front and center in some pretty intense environmental conflicts.

Many of our most important and heroic surf stories are the ones in which we conserved our coastline.

Q: Wildcoast has run some significant campaigns in the past few years. Do you see the organization staying the course or branching into new areas?

A: So far we’ve helped to conserve about 1.8 million acres of coastline, but we have a lot of work to do.

Our staff in San Diego and Baja are ramping up our current efforts to help local communities and Mexican federal agencies conserve areas like San Ignacio Lagoon, the Vizcaino Peninsula, Sea of Cortez Islands, Magdalena Bay, Cabo Pulmo, and Baja’s Central Pacific Coast. We also are working collaboratively to restore and conserve south San Diego Bay, the Otay River Valley, and the Tijuana River Valley.

Q: Non-surfers have a hard time understanding why you and others regularly risk catching waterborne illness to catch a wave in IB. How do you explain it?

A: The irony of Imperial Beach being subject to a lot of beach closures is that there is probably no other location in California that is as heavily tested, researched and then proactively managed to protect public health and safety. With the plume tracker tool (http://www.sccoos.org/data/tracking/IB/) developed by Scripps Institution of Oceanography, combined with the collaboration on water quality monitoring between the County of San Diego, City of Imperial Beach, and Wildcoast, we are doing a pretty good job of alerting people about pollution events.

Bottom line, I don’t surf IB when there is a hint of pollution in the ocean. That is why I often load up my two teenage sons and their friends in the car and we’ll surf spots like Windansea, Blacks’s, La Jolla Shores, and Trestles or travel to Baja.

Q: What’s your take on the level of environmental engagement by the general public in San Diego County?

A: They love their natural spaces. And when I see the tens of thousands of people from all walks of life that come out to Coastal Cleanup Day and other stewardship events throughout the year, I am always really inspired.

When it counts, such as the efforts to “Save Trestles”, we can depend on an army of passionate and dedicated coastal heroes to defend our natural heritage.

Surfrider's Matt McClain and pro surfer and Surfrider activist Pat O'Connell at a Save Trestles public hearing in San Clemente.

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