The Best 5 Surf Spots in San Diego County

My son Israel at Sunset Cliffs.

My son Israel at Sunset Cliffs.

With our winter surf season over (it was middling at best, with no major swells) and spring upon us, a lot of us spend our days chasing waves up and down the county.

Luckily San Diego is blessed with a plethora of waves that work year-round and are considered some of the world’s best surf spots.

Please note—all of the areas mentioned are for experienced and respectful surfers only. Don’t expect to paddle out at any of these spots if you are not a local and an experienced surfer and catch the best waves. Please respect the locals and the sanctity of the lineup.

1. Black’s Beach. One of the world’s top beachbreaks, this jewel sucks in swells courtesy of the Scripps Submarine Canyon. Probably no other spot in San Diego County is as consistent, with as many good waves and surfers, as Black’s. The water is generally crystal clear and the clarity, shape and uniqueness of the waves reminds me of beaches in Australia.

Black’s is also one of the best places in San Diego County to spot bottlenose dolphins and just offshore is one of the most important locations for shark research in Southern California.  Thankfully, Black’s is now part of the San Diego-Scripps Coastal State Marine Conservation Area—a marine protected area.

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Gabriel Medina during the 2012 Nike Lowers Pro

2. Trestles. Guess what, Orange County—Trestles is really in San Diego County—so it is our spot! (I’m joking—I realize that the incredibly generous and very talented surfers from San Clemente and most of southern Orange County are nice enough to share this spot with surfers from San Diego and around the world).

This is a great improver spot and arguably the best place on a good southwest swell to see some of the world’s best surfers at the top of their game. I love surfing here despite the crowd and so do my kids.

This is about the best place to take your groms and their friends on a surfari in the county. Just remember that dreadful TCA still wants to plow a toll road through San Onofre State Beach.

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Gabriel Medina at Trestles during the 2012 Nike Lowers Pro.

3. Swami’s. On a big winter swells, Swami’s is the Sunset Beach of San Diego County. This amazing reef that is also now a marine protected area creates lined walls perfect for high-performance surfing.

The only problem is that it is very crowded with very good local surfers who dominate the lineup, so your chances of catching a good wave here are pretty limited.

4. Oceanside. This long stretch of beach offers up a variety of breaks—from the wave field south of the pier (and around it) to the opportunities around the pier and between the jetties. Oceanside, like Imperial Beach, is still a classic blue-collar and military surf town with a very talented crew of local surfers.

Generally you can count on the fact that Oceanside is bound to be bigger and breaking a little harder than just about every other spot in North County.

George field testing his designs. Photo courtesy of G. Gall

George field testing his designs. Photo courtesy of G. Gall

5. Sunset Cliffs. This fabled stunning stretch of coastline offers up a variety of waves for every type of surfer. It is generally always crowded with a crew of older guys on bigger boards who rip, but there is typically a slot or two for everyone. Please remember to respect the locals here.

There are a ton of other spots that offer up clean and consistent waves in San Diego County. The more you travel, the more waves you score and the more friends you make.

Especially if you have kids, surfing a variety of spots is the best way for them to improve their surfing and have the type of adventures that are the stuff of groms dreams.

A nice winter day at Sunset Cliffs.

A nice winter day at Sunset Cliffs.

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.

Why Trestles Matters: A Thanksgiving Tale

The groms enjoying their adventure at Trestles.

A couple of days before Thanksgiving and a couple of days after over 200MGD of sewage polluted water flowed out of the TJ River, my sons, Israel 15 and Daniel 13, and their friend Jake 15, boarded a bus in Imperial Beach with their boards, backbacks, and bicycles.

Five hours later they departed the bus at the Carls Jr. in San Clemente for a two-day surf safari at Trestles and campout at San Mateo Campground.

This is the text I received that night:

“All is well..roasting wieners by a roaring fire and sipping hot choco and got perfect three to four foot trestles with four people.”

If there is any reason to stop the Toll Road, it is so generations of kids can have the best adventures of their lives at Trestles/San Mateo/and San Onofre and experience California as it is supposed to be.

So thanks to all of you for “Saving Trestles” and your ongoing commitment to making sure a toll road doesn’t plow through one of the last best places on the planet.

Happy Thanksgiving!!

(thanks to my buddy Mark Rauscher of the Surfrider Foundation for posting this on the Save Trestles blog)

Greg Long and the Upper Limits of Big Waves

Greg Long at Cortes Bank. Photo: Chris Dixon/Ghostwavebook.com

From my Patch.com column this week. Happy Thanksgiving!

Chris Dixon’s new book Ghost Wave provides insight into the exploits of a select group of big-wave surfers such as Mike Parsons, Brad Gerlach and San Clemente’s Greg Long, who are redefining the limits of big-wave surfing.

Long, 28, who has won several Billabong XXL Big Wave Awards, the 2009 Eddie Aikau and the SIMA Waterman of the Year Award, has become a surfing icon for his solid, low-key, intense and strategic approach to surfing the world’s largest waves.

He has given back what surfing gave him by working with organizations such as the Surfrider Foundation, Save the Waves, San Onofre Foundation and WiLDCOAST and is, “Among the most humble, well-rounded and cerebral athletes I’ve ever met,” said Ghost Wave author Dixon.

Greg Long with groms from Imperial Beach during the 2008 California Coastal Commission Hearing on the TCA toll road at the Del Mar Faingrounds.

“The other thing that sets Greg apart, and it’s a trait Kelly Slater has too, is an ability to remain focused on the job at hand while he has such a whirlwind and cacophony of distractions going on around him.

“As a prime example,” Dixon said, “I don’t think another big-wave surfer alive could have pulled as many strings, levers and pulleys as he did to make the first major Cortes Bank paddle in mission happen in 2009—a mere two weeks after he’d won the Eddie Aikau.

“He roped in Kelly Slater, Peter Mel, Nathan Fletcher, Mark Healey, Jamie Sterling and a crew of the most absolute badasses in our sport and had them out to the most remote surf spot on earth on Dec. 26. By my reckoning, he pulled off a Christmas miracle.”

Patch: How did someone who grew up in San Clemente become a professional big-wave surfer? What got you hooked on big waves?

Greg Long: My father was a lifeguard for 38 years. He introduced us to the ocean before we could walk. As we grew up, he instilled every ounce of ocean knowledge that he had into us. Because of this, I always seemed to feel comfortable in the ocean no matter the conditions. As I really started surfing at age 10, I was naturally drawn to bigger waves because they were so much more challenging. Over the years my surfing ability slowly progressed and continued to challenge myself in larger and larger surf.

Patch: You’ve been credited as being part of the group that is now really pushing the envelope on paddling into massive waves. What is your goal in terms of wave size? Have you already reached the limits of what can be surfed?

Long: From a paddle-in perspective, I think we are getting close to the upper limits of how big we can safely go. What you are going to start seeing now is people paddling into new waves, which were typically thought as being un-paddable like Jaws or Cortes bank. However with the implementation of Shane Dorian’s new V1 wetsuit we just might be able to push the limits a little further than we had previously thought. As far as tow-in surfing goes, there is no limit to how big you can ride as long as the conditions permit.

Greg Long at the Cortes Bank. Photo: Chris Dixon/ghostwavebook.com

Patch: What kind of boards are your riding and who is shaping them? Are you able to think critically about how your surfboard is working while you are making a big drop?

Long: I get all of my surfboards from Chris Christenson. It is imperative in our sport to know about your equipment. It is essentially your lifeline. Riding big waves comes down to managing the risks you take and if you’re out there on equipment that isn’t going to perform, you are setting yourself up for disaster.

Patch: What role does fear and adrenaline play in propelling you to take more risks or to analyze a situation in which you hold back on pushing the envelope? Do you have a formal or informal risk assessment strategy?

Long: Fear is a big driving factor behind what I do. I love the mental challenge of overcoming it. I train extensively both physically and mentally to prepare myself to ride big waves and handle the potential consequences. In doing so I eliminate all the variables possibly working against me which are in my control and, in turn, increasing my odds of success.

Greg Long taking a break at the Cortes Bank. Photo: Chris Dixon/ghostwavebook.com

Patch: How are you training in terms of physical exercise, diet and mental preparation?

Long: I train every single day in some form or another to prepare to ride big waves. The main activities are yoga, swimming, cycling and running. I also have a very clean diet, mostly vegetarian. Your body is essentially a machine. If you put bad fuel into it, it won’t perform as efficiently as it should.

Patch: What is currently your favorite big wave spot and why? And your favorite country as a surf destination and why?

Long: I couldn’t name a single favorite big wave break as my favorite but my list of favorites would include:  Mavericks, Todos, Jaws, Cortes Bank. My favorite country to travel to is South Africa as it offers the widest array of surfing breaks imaginable. From perfect points  to huge slabs, it has it all. Not to mention it’s stunningly beautiful with amazing people.

Patch: Do you work with a forecaster or are you continually evaluating wave models and weather reports to determine where to travel to find waves?

Long: I do most of my surf forecasting on my own. I have been following and monitoring swells in great detail for well over 10 years now so I feel I have a pretty thorough understanding of each of the waves I surf and what they need to make them tick. I do, however, confer with Sean Collins from Surfline and Mark Sponsler from Stormsurf.com anytime I doubt or question a decision during a significant swell.

Patch: Your brother Rusty and you have carved out unique careers as big-wave surfers. Are you competitive with each other? Does each of you give feedback to the other? How often do you surf together?

Long: Rusty and I are extremely close. Growing up we never really had a rivalry but rather worked together in an effort to help one another succeed. We still surf and travel together on a regular basis and are constantly giving advice or sharing tips.

Mike Parsons, Chris Dixon, Jim Houtz, and Greg Long. Photo: Chris Dixon/ghostwavebook.com

Patch: Your father, Steve, was a legendary California State Park lifeguard, park ranger, superintendent and now a conservationist who helped to defeat the proposal to place a highway through San Onofre State Beach. How much of an influence did he have on your choice of career path? Do your parents still worry about Rusty and you when you are out surfing huge waves in off-the-charts locations?

Long: Both my mom and pop have been incredibly supportive of our careers. Growing up they never pushed us in any certain direction but rather let us find our own paths and what made us happy. My mom still refuses to come watch us surf when it’s big but loves hearing the stories and seeing the photos afterwards.

Patch: You’ve won the Billabong XXL Ride of the Year Award and the Eddie Aikau. How do you top that? What is next for you in terms of your career and surfing goals?

Long: I surf big waves because I love it. Simple as that. Winning contests or XXL awards have never been and will never be the focus or motivation for my career. My goal in life is to be happy, live a healthy, positive lifestyle and hopefully inspire and encourage others to do the same along the way.

Cortes Bank. Photo: Chris Dixon/ghostwavebook.com

The Pure Joy of Surfing

From my Imperial Beach and Coronado Patch columns from January 12, 2011.

The groms after their first session at Lowers.

The groms woke up early Saturday morning. Israel woke up first followed by Shane Landry, Jake Stutz and my youngest son Daniel. It was Daniel’s 13th birthday, and we celebrated with a surfari to Trestles.

By 6:30 the groms were in the lineup on a 3-4 foot day at Lowers.  The surf was firing. “It’s perfect,” Daniel yelled as I paddled by him.

A biting offshore wind whipped out of the Santa Margarita Mountains, east of Camp Pendleton, reminding me how lucky I was to be in my 4-3-2 toasty Matuse Hoplite and hood.

South Bay Union School District Board member and IB ripper Dave Lopez, his son Loukas along with Vincent Claunch, joined us in the lineup. Dave surfed in his new X-Cel 4-3 Drylock, which he said, “Keeps me almost dry.”

The Grom Squad had a blast. The inside waves peeled both left and right, were hollow and provided just enough face for awesome grom snaps and cutbacks.

Daniel attempts something...

I was able to test-drive my new Novak EPS-epoxy 6’6” squash quad (now called the “Potz” by the groms due to its lime green and electric orange colors) with new Futures “Rusty” lightweight foam hex core glass fins. The board and fins worked amazingly well.

As usual I sat just to the south of the hardcore local crew (who are always friendly). I snagged a few wave sets that swung wide and was able to push my new board to see what it could do on the perfect peeling rights.

In the lineup I said hello to International Surfing Association Director Bob Mignogna, who as a board member of the SIMA Environmental Fund is a big supporter of WiLDCOAST. I also chatted with Greg Hulsizer, the CEO of the Southbay Expressway about his homemade 5’6” min-Simmon’s hybrid that he ripped on.

After a solid three-hour surf, the south wind picked up and we headed back to San Diego. On the way home we stopped for a second session at Scripps Pier, where the sideshore and uncrowded A-frames provided a treat for the groms.

Saturday was the culmination of the best week of swell in about a month.

A clean northwest groundswell created lots of barrels in both Coronado and Imperial Beach. Due to the beach closure in the early part of the week in IB, I surfed Coronado last Wednesday and scored a few waves.

On Thursday IB was open and I surfed the south side twice with a small crew including Terry Richardson, Alex Ypis, Billy Huddleston, John Tolmosoff and Ben McCue.

Kyle Knox was out ripping and was recently featured on Surfline.com

Unfortunately, the quality of the waves was marred by the poor quality of the water.

“I surfed for more than two hours on Thursday and enjoyed the brief high pressure/no wind warm period,” said Jay Novak. “Later that day I came down with body aches and a flu type condition. By Friday AM the beach closure signs were back. That’s IB.”

Silver Strand Lifeguard Captain Mike Martino scored the session of the week.

“I took my five-year-old nephew Ian surfing at La Jolla Shores where it was low tide and 1-3 foot,” he said.  “When we saw the waves my nephew blurted out, ‘Uncle Mike the surf is great!’ After his last wave that was overhead for him, Ian said, ‘Uncle, Mike I rode the face the whole way.’ I rode eight waves with my nephew, never got off my belly and had one of the best surf days in a year.”

See you in the water.

Wild Sea Book Trailer

Here is the video trailer for my book Wild Sea

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