I was a water baby. Pools, lakes, the ocean – I loved them all! To me, there was no better summer vacation than spending it with my grandparents, who lived in Corona del Mar, CA. They had a pool … and they lived a block up from the beach! Every morning, my brother and sister and I would traipse on down to the ocean, bodysurf or lay in the sand most of the day, then head home where we swam in the pool ‘til bedtime. It was the best.
In my 20s I moved to northern California and quickly realized that swimming in the ocean up here wasn’t quite the same as my beloved childhood memory. Monterey Bay is really cold, bone-chillingly cold. I can’t imagine getting much more than my feet wet, which generally only happens if I’m not paying attention to the tide’s comings and goings. And usually, if I’m not paying attention, it’s because I’m watching the spunky surfers.
As a kid I was never a surfer. Too scary. But during my summer sojourns at the beach, I did use to eavesdrop on my brother and his friends talk about epic waves … boards in hand, waiting for just the right moment to paddle out. I vividly remember the faraway look on their faces as they talked about onshore and offshore winds, crests and curls and carving, wipeouts and whitewater. I must admit, it was a language I did not understand.
And here I am, many years later still sitting on the surfing sidelines. But what a view. And what a story this area can tell about surfing. The true beginnings of the California surf scene happened right in our bay, in Santa Cruz in the late 1880s.
With long surfboards made of local redwoods, milled into the shape of traditional Hawaiian o’lo boards, three Hawaiian princes made history by riding the breakers one summer afternoon near the mouth of the San Lorenzo River. The Santa Cruz Daily Surf reported this as the first account of surfing anywhere in the Americas.
And with this inaugural wave sliding event, the catch-a-wave enthusiasm in Santa Cruz launched a way of life. As the surfing story unfolded here, it created a culture, relaxed and easy-going … a never-ending stoke about that outside wave.
Legendary surfer and wetsuit pioneer, Jack O’Neill, opened his Surf Shop in Santa Cruz in 1959. With the creation of his neoprene suits, surfing in Monterey Bay’s bitterly cold water became a year-round activity that thousands could embrace. And they did, flocking to places like Cowell’s, Natural Bridges, Pleasure Point and Steamer Lane, famous for its big swells, infamous for its difficulty. Santa Cruz had become the embodiment of the endless summer.
Now the entire area is a World Surfing Reserve. What would Gidget and Moondoggie say?