Los Angeles is a tough town, full of cutthroat executives and self-preservationists living alongside an influx of dreamers that will do anything for free if it’s good for their career. LA will either make or break you...actually, even if it makes you there’s a good chance some breaking will still be involved. But as every surfer knows, a good break can be a wonderful thing (see what I did there?), and for me, the last four years have been marked by a different break every summer. So if you’re new to town, here’s the breakdown of what some of our most popular beaches have to offer.
My first full summer in Los Angeles was spent surfing every week at Santa Monica. I wouldn’t say Santa Monica has a reputation as a great surf spot, but I’ve had so many good days there that it’s definitely worth checking out. Watch out though -- on bigger days this spot can close out faster and heavier than your bank account after moving here with no job, so check the surf report before you go. Other downfalls include dirty water and pricey parking. I recommend parking at Ocean Way and Bay St. before 7AM (the meters are free). It’s also a great place to take a surf lesson, with a host of schools stationed there.
Later that year I also discovered Sunset and Pacific Coast Highway, one of my favorite spots in the city. Here you’ll get beautiful, long right-hand waves with faces as smooth as a 40-foot skate ramp. It gets crowded though, and you have to paddle pretty far to get to the main part of the break; but sometimes you can hang out on the far end and catch the leftovers, which is akin to leftover turkey sandwiches after Thanksgiving...not the main course but just as good in their own way.
Crowded day at El Porto
2011 became the year of Venice, which every LA visitor needs to experience at least once. Parking is a nightmare and there’s always the chance you’ll happen across a hypodermic needle floating by in between sets. Still, if you want to get to the roots of LA surfing, this is a good place to be. It’s nice for beginners, as the shallow water before the break tends to extend pretty far, giving tourists plenty of space to frolick in the dirty water while you hone your skills on the smaller break. Also, if the waves are ever bad, there’s a great skatepark nearby for those who keep a board in their trunks at all times.
The following year was a flat summer, and so the only spot that had any resemblance of a wave was El Porto. The northernmost part of Manhattan Beach, this is where the majority of surfers in the Los Angeles area flock to. It probably has the most consistent waves in the area, at least when it comes to size. However, it can get dumpy and powerful, making it difficult to paddle out at times, especially for a beginner (here’s an article to help on a challenging paddle out). But when every other break in LA is flat, Porto usually has enough power to pick you up, which is why it’s also one of the most crowded spots in the city. For that reason, I tend to head a little north to my favorite Los Angeles spot - Dockweiler.
Dockweiler at Tower 45
When 2013 rolled around, I moved two miles from Dockweiler and made it a personal goal to surf more than I ever had in my life. The waves are just a tad smaller than El Porto, but fewer crowds and ample free parking make it a worthy sacrifice in my book. Though the waves are smaller, the right swell can bring head-high lefts at Lifeguard Tower 45 (corner of Vista Del Mar and Napoleon St.). I’ve also had a host of great rides at the groin at Tower 49. Just a few yards south of this, you can grab a fire pit and have a good old fashioned California bonfire after a long day of surfing -- what else could you ask for in a spot?
So what does the summer of 2014 hold? The Golden Coast is a long one and Los Angeles surfing is just the beginning. Hopefully this helps you pick which spot to check out as you explore the City of Angels.
Know of a good spot I missed? Comment below and maybe I’ll see you there!