El Porto. Some call it the most consistent wave in Los Angeles’ South Bay. Others refer to it as the bane of their existence for its huge crowds and the diverse skill levels it attracts.
The crowds pose quite the inconvenience, but when it comes down to it, El Porto may be as close as any surf break can come to a true microcosm of surfing’s diverse makeup at large. The many moods of the place attract people from all walks of life. On a recent visit, I decided to try to photograph El Porto’s diversity.
El Porto did not disappoint. The friendly, open energy of the surfers there was immediately apparent, but folks aren’t lying when they say it’s crowded. From the thirty-or-so surfers I got to know over the course of two separate mornings spent taking photos, there were interesting and colorful characters of all ages, genders, skill levels and backgrounds.
In fact, the first people I met were two Brazilian students on holiday. One of them, who’d been to El Porto before, was bringing his buddy for his very first California surf and you could see the excitement all over his friend’s face.
These weren’t the only Brazilians I met. I also came across a business owner from southern Brazil, who, after surfing here for 27 years safely, calls El Porto “the best wave around.” Although I definitely came across a lot more locals and regulars, many originated from far away places or brought friends along who’d never been before. Hawaii, Massachusetts, Morocco, and Bali were just a few of those places.
The surfers ranged in age from as young as 14 to as old as 70. Their occupations painted an even more diverse picture. From an engineer, a high school administrator and an elementary school librarian to entrepreneurs, set dressers, and artists, people truly came from all walks of life.
With this wide range of people also came an even wider range of experience levels. Most had about ten or more years of surfing experience or had grown up surfing El Porto. However, a few shared that this wave was also the perfect wave for beginners. Dallas native, Mike Rainier, knew this to be true as this was his first day of surfing ever. When I asked him how it went, he laughed saying, “terrible, but it was fun.”
The common complaint seemed to be the crowds, but many still praised the wave’s consistency. A Hermosa Beach local, Frank Mazzotta, who’s been surfing El Porto for over 40 years, went as far as to call it “the mecca of the South Bay.” Celeste Kim, who calls El Porto her home break, shared how she’s come to know all the people who surf here, likening it to its own little family.
While some had nothing but praise for El Porto, many were quick to criticize. Young entrepreneur, George Huang, shared that it’s all about having the right attitude. “Like for me, just have low expectations and you’ll have fun.”
Others, like private surf instructor, Sarah Foley, highlighted the dangers of the big crowds. “A lot of people who aren’t sure what they are doing will come here and just snake you and not have the best etiquette…which can be discouraging.” Not only is it discouraging, but 48-year old surfer Jonathan Michael argues that it’s also dangerous. “They’re going to end up hitting you with their surfboards, which has happened to me a few times,” he said.
El Porto is quite the melting pot. It’s a spot that represents the diverse group of people that surf culture attracts. Raising a mirror to this community we see people of all ages, nationalities, skill levels, occupations and more coming together on one stretch of beach.
It’s true the waves at El Porto may not be the greatest, and sure the crowds may be annoying (you might have to dodge a few inexperienced surfers dropping in on you). But, in the end, there’s something intangible about El Porto that keeps this eclectic mix shuffling in and out each day like the tide.