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.

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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.”

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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.

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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.

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Global Wave Conference Part III

The GWC speakers during Day 1

The Global Wave Conference ended last night in San Sebastian with a great discussion on working with UNESCO to at least recognize surfing as an official sport and attempting to create UNESCO Heritage Site designations for some surf spots.

Ben McCue, Katie Westfall of Save the Waves (formerly of Wildcoast) and French surf sociologist and author Taha Al Azzawi (the guru on French surf culture)

Stand out presentations during the conference included those by Save Our Surf (from Portugal), Surfers Against Sewage, Brad Farmer and the National Surfing Reserve Organization, Save the Wave’s discussion of World Surfing Reserves, the discussion by Surfrider Japan’s director on the Fukushima/Tsunami disaster and Michael’s (forget last name) passionate discussion on marine education in South Africa.

Ben McCue and English big wave charger and oceanographer Dr. Tony Butt (who now lives in Spain)

GWC 2011 was overall a small and inspiring meeting of passionate activists who are trying their best to preserve the world’s most iconic surf spots and and coastal areas.

Dean LaTourrette and Katie Westfall of Save the Waves and the Surfers Against Sewage team from the UK. The SAS crew is like The Clash of the save surf movement. These guys are seriously organized, edgy and BOOM--kick ass!!

My thanks to the Surfrider Foundation-Europe and the Surfrider Foundation (thanks Jim and Chad) for putting together and organizing the conference.

Andy from Surfers Against Sewage. These guys impressed everyone with their passion, organization, passion, leadership and energy.

I presented during the last panel of the conference. And since the surf was about somewhere in the 6’+ range, offshore and looking pretty fun directly in front of the conference center, I was itching to get and get a surf (Chad and Rick from Surfrider were smart and paddled out at lunch) and had no patience for extended discussions. Luckily Dean from Save the Waves kept restraining me and imploring me not to behave like a petulant child-like surfer. So I stayed rather than flee and luckily had plenty of time to get my butt kicked and catch a few big-faced waves.

Ben McCue, Spanish surfer Anna Gutierrez, Serge Dedina and Zach Plopper after our end of conference surf session in San Sebastian.

The ending surf session was awesome. Most of the conference participants paddled out. Everyone was stoked to catch a few waves with each other and we all noticed that even though it was offshore, overhead in the middle of one of the biggest surf towns in Europe, that we were pretty much the only surfers out in the water (and the malecon was packed!).

During the final dinner at the People Restaurant on the malecon in San Sebastian there was a lot of wine, a four-course meal that ended with duck, included fish there were many speeches made, the signing of a MOU on a napkin and lots of laughs. A perfect surfer ending to a serious conference!

The final dinner at People Restaurant in San Sebastian.

On a final note, I couldn’t think of better locations for surf conferences or conferences than Biarritz or San Sebastian. Both are beautiful with conference facilities overlooking great surf breaks, with great food, and nice people. What more could you ask for?

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