Orange County Surf Town Culture
Lot's of Surf options in the OC
by Corky Carroll
This morning I was sitting here thinking about how Orange County has so many great surf spots to choose from. No matter what time of year it is there is always somewhere to go to catch the swell as we have places that are good on just about any direction of swell. As I was pondering this it also came to me how each of our different areas seems to have its very own personality, or “vibe” as you might want to call it in the hipper vernacular. North county and south county are like the north and south pole, with the other spots like a sandwich in the middle.
Let’s start at the far north end and work our way down. The Seal Beach, Surfside and Sunset Beach area is a little world all onto itself. The surf spots there tend to be frequented by locals and those coming down from nearby Long Beach. As the freeway takes most people going south right past those spots, with the promise of maybe better waves farther along most don’t choose that exit and keep going. You get a definite hard-core small-town surfing vibe there. Locals are fine with you not stopping and happy in their own cocoon. It blows out there earlier than anywhere else too.
Then the greater Huntington Beach world surf center. Make no mistake, this is one of the world’s foremost surfing areas and the vibe tends to be an unusual blend of global and the hardest of core locals you can imagine. The main spot is, of course, the Huntington Beach Pier. Some of the best surfing on the planet takes place each and every day on both sides of that thing. Unknown kids that are groundbreakers are abundant. It’s also one of the hardest places to get a wave you can find. Very aggressive out there. Inked and pierced meanies with red glowing eyes and forked tongues slashing lips like Wearing blenders. I swear I have seen dudes out there with actual horns on their heads, chicks too. It’s a world class stage.
Then you get to Newport Beach, another “off the freeway” and even “off the highway” spot. A ton of great surfers there and a very tight knit surf community. Not hostile, yet “locals” none the less. Surf is fickle, can be great or can be junk. Most that surf there live there or just like that salty beach town feeling. Again, most pass by five miles inland on the 405.
Laguna Beach is in its own totally different world. It is a beach town yes, but not in the traditional sense. It’s more of an art town, combined with great musicians, interesting characters and has surfing and surfers tossed into the mix to add color and spice to the stew. Lots of rocky coves and a few intersecting surf spots, not easy to ride and mostly only by those who are dedicated to riding them on a daily basis. I love Laguna Beach, not for the surfing as much as it just has its own culture.
Then you have the Dana Point area. Not sure how to describe this. It was once the focal point of the surfing world back in the glory days of Hobie, SURFER magazine, Clark Foam and Bruce Brown Films. Very good surf spots that ranged from Salt Creek, Killer Dana (the cove) and Doheny State Park. A lot has changed since then with the addition of the Harbor and all the hotels etc. When it was just Pacific Coast Highway as the main up and down the coast route this was a popular area to stop and surf. Lot’s of great and colorful surfing people lived there. Now it’s kind of one more “off the freeway” area that seems to still get surfed but there is not the hard-core surfing vibe that you would feel farther north, or farther south. A lot of “boat” people there.
Then lastly we come to what I like to generalize as “south county.” San Clemente to San Onofre Surf Beach. Some of the best surf in the world, and certainly on the West Coast, gets ridden along these beaches. San Clemente itself is a lot like Newport Beach in the fact that mostly only those who live there surf it’s beaches. Very beach town. But at the south end you have the great reefs at the “Trestles” and San Onofre spots. The points at “Trestles” will feature the best surfers and best surfing all the time. It’s a showcase for that. Very aggressive, yet with the fact that there are people from all over out there, going for it, there isn’t as much of a “local” vibe as a “top talent” vibe. The good guys rule, period.
And San Onofre is still the good old family surf beach even after all of these years of State Parkage change and all of that. It still has the same vibe as back when I first started hanging out there in the late 1950’s, even many of the same people. A lot of those people were already old back then. Family beach, don’t take offense if everybody rides the same wave. Lots of history there.
And there you have my off the top of my head vibe trip thru O.C. surf areas. I only touched on the main areas, there are other pockets of action
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