Surfing is the state sport of California. And last year, the Assembly and Senate passed a Resolution designating September 20th as California Surfing Day. But if you’re really looking to celebrate all things surfing, a road trip, might be in order.
Surfing is a part of California’s culture. Even if you’ve never touched a surfboard, the lifestyle – fashion, music, travel – has likely touched you in some way. There are surf-centric spots all along the California coast, but it all began in the San Francisco Bay Area in Santa Cruz.
More than 130 years ago, it was Hawaiian royalty visiting Santa Cruz that introduced surfing to the mainland.. and the rest is history.
If you’ve ever had the inkling to try to learn, Santa Cruz’s Cowell Beach is the place to do it. Club Ed Surf School runs lessons right on Cowell Beach. When you’re putting on your wetsuit, ask Ed to show you the picture of his grandmother doing a headstand on a surfboard. Obviously, surfing talent runs in the family. But this stretch of waves on Cowell Beach is a place where folks go to learn. It can get crowded, especially on weekends, but beginners are welcome here.
Let’s move south, from Santa Cruz to Huntington Beach, home of both the Surfing Walk of Fame and the Surfers’ Hall of Fame. Just off the beach, think of it as surfing’s version of Hollywoods’s Walk of Fame. Along with plaques, you’ll find foot and hand prints of surfing greats.
The first West Coast Surfing Championships were held in Huntington Beach in 1959. Now called the Vans U.S. Open of Surfing, it celebrated its 60th anniversary in 2019.
I don’t recommend many museums, but the California Surf Museum has a fun collection of historic surfboards, including one that’s said to be the oldest surfboard known of in California. I figure that’s worth giving up an hour or so of beach time. The museum is in Oceanside, in San Diego County and it also displays the surfboard pro-surfer Bethany Hamilton was using when she was attacked by a shark at the age of 13 on Kauai’s north shore. Rotating exhibits mean there’s always something new to see on return trips.
After you soak it all in, the beach will be waiting. If you’re not in the mood to get sandy you can stroll on the pier – it comes with a great view of the surfers in the water below.
Oceanside is a colorful, old school seaside spot that’s fun to wander. It tends to get overshadowed by its more famous Southern California neighbors, but a big percentage of surfboards made in the United States are touched at some point along the line in Oceanside.
From an industry perspective, Oceanside plays a huge role in California’s surf culture. Chemistry Surfboards is just one of probably 25 to 30 surfboard makers that call a stretch referred to as “Shapers Alley” home. The skill and design that goes into creating a surfboard is an amazing and dusty process.
Dana’s trip was hosted by Visit California, but as always her thoughts and opinions are her own.