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15 Tips: The Utimate New York City surf Road Trip

City surfers are sometimes required to drive outside their bubbles of convenience to get waves. Photo: Forest Woodward


The Inertia

My walk to the beach for an afternoon surf session in my new city of Lima is more or less the same distance as it was back in San Diego. I suit up, rush through a few passes of wax, and head out the door. Stepping onto the cold pavement, I briskly jog in my bare feet towards the beach, the same way I did every afternoon in California. Inevitably, I get one or two sideways glances from the locals, wondering why this gringo is running through the streets of Peru’s capital city unshod. I often wonder the same thing myself, although the explanation is simple – my first day surfing in Lima, I hid my sandals under a rock on the beach, but apparently they weren’t hidden good enough to escape thievery. Now my neighbors enjoy mild amusement at the sight of me gingerly prancing down the street, carefully avoiding puddles of motor oil, rocks, broken glass, half-covered man holes, dog shit (at least I think it’s from a dog), dog urine (I’m less convinced of the urine’s origins), honking buses, speeding taxis, and the occasional hypodermic needle.

After dodging chemical spills, runaway vehicles, and unknown bodily fluids, my local beach at the base of Lima’s cliffs presents me with a new maze of debris scattered among the rocks like landmines. All the usual suspects are present: pieces of plastic, cigarette butts, food wrappers, but there is also just plain ridiculous junk like fishing nets, giant ropes, two-by-fours with exposed nails, and full-sized painting tarps floating in the line-up. Upon entering the water, I soon become aware of a distinctly foul odor, which I assume must be from the 20 cubic meters of untreated sewage that the city dumps into the Pacific every second. My time spent surfing in Lima, whose official population is around 9 million, sparked my curiosity as to whether my urban surfing experience is similar to that of surfers living in other high-density, major metropolitan areas. Do surfers in New York City, Los Angeles, or San Francisco navigate deadly traffic and avoid floating battleships of rubble as part of their daily surfing ritual?

I’ve never thought of myself as a “city” person, even though I was born and raised in San Jose, California – the 10th largest city in the U.S. and the defacto capital of Silicon Valley. Perhaps it’s because San Jose has a more spread-out feel compared to other California metropolitan hubs like San Francisco or Los Angeles, where residents seem to be squeezed upward into behemoth skyscrapers thanks to a combination of population growth and limited living space. My earliest trips to the ocean were primarily to the sleepy beach towns of Santa Cruz and Pacifica, whose populations are only a fraction of San Jose’s nearly one million inhabitants. In the quiet side streets, clean beaches, and chilly water of these towns, I developed a lasting image in my mind of the ideal beach community – pristine and peaceful, with a close-knit community of ocean-minded residents.

Several years later, when I moved to San Diego and began to surf regularly, that image was upheld. While there were certainly more surfers, and people in general, flocking to the beach on any given day, there was also a strong sense of stewardship for maintaining a clean ocean environment among residents and tourists alike. All of that went out the window when I moved to Lima seven months ago, which has been my first experience with what I would consider real “city living.” This is especially concerning for me considering the fact that I have plans to live in both Tokyo and San Francisco in the near future – not exactly pastoral surfing towns. My hope is that the insane traffic and deplorable beach conditions here in Lima are not indicative of the metropolitan surfing experience as a whole. Otherwise, I’ll need to check that my hepatitis vaccines are up to date before booking my flight to Japan.

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