Ah, come on. It’s Southern California. You have to try it at least once, man. Surfing. You just have to surf. So, I will tell you what not to do the first time out on your board. I didn’t take any classes. I read no books. Watched no videos. Instead, I went to a surf shop and purchased the cheapest used board they had ($100 and full of dings). Then, I went to where I knew the surfers would be, Huntington Beach, allegedly the first town built by surf.
I watched the waves roll in, and how the surfers rode them. Probably for an hour or so. Then I practiced getting on the board while still on the sandy shore. I did a couple of pop-ups and tossed my board into the waves -- donning shorts and a T-shirt (this is not surf ware).
It took an eternity to figure out how to paddle beyond the first set of smaller waves breaking closest to the shore. A real good kick and thrust did the job. Then came a second, larger set of waves further out. Now that took some time to work through, but eventually, I saw that others actually dove with their board under the wave. Ah-ha!
An hour later I was sitting atop my cheap longboard, legs dangling in the water, bobbing along, waiting for the perfect wave. Trouble is, I didn’t know what one looked like. So I tried to ride everything. I was out there several hours before I got tired of standing up, falling off and swimming to shore to retrieve my board only to have to paddle back out through both sets of waves again.
Plus, I was now starved. I figured, one more time, then I’d forget about this California obsession. And, that’s when the Big Mama started to roll in. I felt my board start to push forward, looked over my shoulder, realized ‘this is it’ and I popped up, balancing myself with both arms, left foot forward. You can feel the power under your feet, how the energy pushes your body along. Don’t fight it, let the wave move you. It was mesmerizing. And, I was hooked.
Certainly, I drank enough salt water to brine a turkey, and I hit the sea floor several times, and that first board was smashed into two pieces on a rock in Malibu, but it became an addiction. Sunday was Surf Day.
Here’s some tips to save you hours of beatings on a board:
1) Take a few lessons. Consistently good teachers are available through Personal Surf Lessons (www.personalsurflessons.com)
2) Find a good surf shop where you can purchase a decent board. Suggestions: Shelter Surf Shop, 2148 E. 4th St. in Long Beach -and- Harbour Surfboards at 329 Main St. in Seal Beach. (If you’re a beginner, you will want a longboard. The longer the better.)
3) Check the wave report before you push your way through L.A. traffic. www.surfline.com.
Best Surf Spots:
1) Zuma Beach: 19 miles north of Malibu on Pacific Coast Highway. No entrance fee. Free parking along PCH (if you get there early). During the week it’s peaceful, but oh, the summer weekends are terrible. It has restrooms, showers with changing facilities and a small snack bar. No dogs.
2) Manhattan Beach: Exit the I-405 at Hawthorne Blvd., go north and turn left onto Manhattan Beach Blvd. No entrance fee. Street parking is available, but hard to find. They offer restrooms and showers. No dogs on the beach itself. Note: Do not use this beach after it has rained as the water quality is disgusting.
3) Santa Monica Beach: Where the PCH and I-10 collide. No entrance fee. Parking available on the street or in lots at Ocean Ave. They offer restrooms, showers and plenty of restaurants are nearby. No dogs. This is a great beginners beach as the slope allows for gentle waves.
4) Huntington State Beach: Two miles of shoreline from Newport Beach north to Beach Blvd. No entrance fee. Parking available along the street and in lots. They offer restrooms, and there are restaurants nearby. No dogs. Sandbars dramatically shift for three-quarters of the year which makes for exciting surf conditions, and swells.
5) County Line: At the county line north of Malibu along the PCH. No entrance fee. Free parking wherever you can find it along PCH. Port-o-potties are available and I’ve seen plenty of dogs on the beach. It has a beach break which allows for a great ride. But the best reason to come to county line:
This is a true surf shack with the freshest fish around. There are two sides to the place: those who want fried or those who prefer steamed. The steamed side is also a seafood market. And help yourself to the wall of coolers, for the beer of your choice. Simply place your order at the counter and head out to the patio (often packed with surfers and bikers). Condiments are at a small table outside. Wait for your number to be called through the window.
Nothing bets sitting on their front porch, watching the sun dip into the water, salty breeze caressing you, as you suck down a cold one, and crack open more crab legs. This isn’t a fancy place if you haven’t figured that out. (The bathrooms are around back and are of the ‘temporary’ variety.)