Dawn at San Diego’s Ocean Beach


The Inertia

After living and surfing in NorCal (the Bay Area) for seven years, I moved to SoCal (San Diego) six months ago and have inevitably been comparing and contrasting the two regions. One obvious difference is the water temperature. In NorCal, I wore a 4/3 wetsuit year round–always with booties and often with a hood and gloves too. Although the winter water was cooler, mid-summer in SoCal has allowed me to surf in a 2-mil shorty while there are plenty of other folks who have dispensed with rubber altogether on sunny afternoons. One element of surfing is the same wherever you go: the tribe extends throughout the world, and I’ve found surfing buddies down south just as I did up north. Yet there are a few things that surprised me.

Everybody surfs. Or so it seems.

Unlike the Bay Area, which as its name suggests hugs the bay and not the beach, San Diego sprawls alongside the ocean. It’s hard to drive anywhere without seeing a car (or bicycle or skateboard) carrying a surfboard. Grocery stores in beach neighborhoods sell surf wax at the checkout next to the mints. And there are a plethora of surf clubs: town clubs, company clubs, even a women’s surf club, the San Diego Surf Ladies. Many of my co-workers surf, or used to, and stop by my desk for a post-dawn report. Living in Silicon Valley, I never saw this level of wave engagement. I felt like more of an oddity as a surfer, while here, it’s all too common.

It’s harder to surf alone. But not impossible.

With so many surfers living a short distance from the beach, I never expected to be able to enjoy any solitary surf sessions in SoCal as I had at the Jetty in Half Moon Bay. But that magic can still happen here if you’re willing to get to the beach when night is just yielding to morning and paddle out on days which the oracle at Surfline has forecast as less than fair. Of course you understand that I’m not going to tell you where I’ve surfed alone, but I will say that it’s within the San Diego city limits.

I’m still often the only female in the lineup.

One thing I thought might be different in SoCal, due to easier access and warmer water, is the number of women surfers. To some extent, I think there actually are more – enough to form a large and successful women’s surf club – but they generally don’t come out to play when and where I do. At dawn, at the intermediate breaks, I’m still typically the only surfer girl in the water. And I’m rather at a loss to explain this.

People are friendlier.

The first spot I surfed when I moved south was Windansea in La Jolla and the few other surfers in the lineup tried to pretend I didn’t exist. It was not unlike my experiences at the point breaks of Santa Cruz and spots just north. Closer to San Francisco, the lineup would figuratively thaw a bit, but I wouldn’t describe it as particularly friendly unless I’d brought a pack of buddies out with me. Happily, my second San Diego break was Tourmaline Surfing Park, where strangers smile and say hello as soon as you get out of your car in the parking lot. This friendly vibe exists at the majority of breaks in San Diego County. I’ve been called into waves even at competitive spots where I’d anticipated a more aggro vibe like Blacks and Trestles. Yes, Trestles is actually in north San Diego County despite Surfline’s puzzling placement of it in south Orange County. With a larger community of surfers in closer proximity to the coast, it seems counterintuitive but there appears to be a general spirit of surfing aloha in the far south of California that doesn’t come together in the north.

While NorCal surfing certainly had its unique charms and challenges, in six months I have been assimilated and reborn as a SoCal surfer girl. Although I’m still not blonde.



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