San Diego can be like one giant, festering sardine tin. There’s lines of cars stretching for miles, stuck in a demented limbo, people shoving past one another at the malls and on the boardwalk, feeding their mindless consumerism, and then there are the beaches; everyone seems to congregate there, fighting for a spot to lay down their towel or wade in the waves.
There’s a reason the great Maynard James Keenan believed that Californians needed to learn to swim. Just past the foam, where the water is calmer, you can escape all of the noise, the smell of exhaust and tar, and sit on your board and watch the sunset–or you could drown it all out with a wave-induced adrenaline rush.
The water is your best bet for an escape, and sometimes even that isn’t enough. Surfing has become a mainstream obsession. Lineups have gone from ten people to a few dozen, or even a hundred, especially during a swell. Dry land is even worse.
You have to really struggle to find someplace quiet and secluded, where hoards of imbeciles aren’t vying for a spot in the sand. The few havens left in San Diego are seen as such because there are very difficult to get to.
Black’s Beach is the perfect example of this. It is San Diego’s secret beach. It’s notoriously inaccessible, and at any given time the waves there are a foot higher than anywhere else in the county. That comes with caveats, of course. Sometimes, especially during its famous winter swells, crowds do make the precarious climb down the Torrey Pine Bluffs–300-foot cliffs that line the beach–and when that happens the lineup isn’t even worth attempting.
The beach also boasts a gnarly set of artificial reefs, which would be great for snorkeling and scuba diving, but the tide is so wicked, most swimmers won’t even attempt to go in the water. Surfers there have to be cautious as well. If you wipe out hard, you’re bound to face a serious laceration.
A San Diego surf school can help prepare you for that. You’ll learn when to bail, how to bail, and how to manage the tide. With practice, you’ll be able to paddle out safely; eventually, those barrels won’t seem intimidating.
But you might need to spend time with a San Diego surf school just to manage the locals. Kids, thugs, and overgrown apes often get this idea in their heads that they own the water. It’s called localism, and if you haven’t proven yourself or you’re not careful, it can lead to any number of nasty interactions. It’s best to learn the ropes before you even make the trip.
kellinahandbasket / Flickr
How to Get to Black’s Beach
A San Diego surf school can prepare you for the water, but the land itself–and navigating the route to Black’s Beach–is something you’ll have to get used to. There are a few ways there. The beach itself is wedged between Torrey Pines State Beach, which is to the north, and the calmer La Jolla Shores, which is to the south. There’s a lengthy trail through Torrey Pines, but it takes forever, and it is possible to cross over to Black’s Beach from La Jolla Shores when the tide is low. Neither method is practical.
Most visitors take the main trail down the bluffs. It’s a steep, precarious path, lined with constantly eroding cliffs. You’ll gain a serious workout if you chance it, but you’ll also be risking a 300-foot drop, and you wouldn’t be the first person to fall. In fact, it’s probably a good idea to stand away from the cliffs when you’re down in the sand. Chunks of sandstone have been known to come crashing down.
Surfing Black’s Beach
The surf at Black’s Beach is relatively consistent and clean. Usually the winter time–specifically the month of January–is really when you want to watch out and learn the ropes before you dive in. Any San Diego Surf School will help you learn your limitations, when you can ride, and when it’s best to hold back. The biggest problem with Black’s Beach–besides those pesky coral reefs–is the riptides. They are strong. San Diego surf schools will teach you how to read the water and watch the motion, and they’ll teach you what to avoid. But it’s important to develop strong body strength and swimming skills before you attempt those swells. The good news is that outside of winter, you will find times when the waves are small enough for beginners. Just make sure to wear a helmet and protective gear to protect yourself from the reef. Best to invest in some surf shoes to protect your feet.
There are a few more things San Diego surf schools can’t prepare you for. Outside of San Diego, Black’s Beach is known for its clothing optional section, which is located to the north of the surfing area. Technically it’s illegal, and authorities have cracked down several times over the years. But the “nakes,” as the surfers call them, keep coming back time and time again. So people just role their eyes and deal with it.
Robert Gourley / Flickr
It’s difficult to imagine anyone building anything on a beach surrounded by 300-foot high cliffs. It’s hard to get down there much less haul bags of concrete and machinery. But somehow an architect named Dale Naegle was able to erect what is known as the “Mushroom House,” a San Diego icon that was built to withstand tidal waves and storms. It’s only accessible through a tramway that runs up and down the cliff.
Finding a San Diego Surf School
The hard truth is that it can take months if not years to learn how to surf Black’s Beach safely, especially during a swell. It’s considered an expert beach, and for good reason. You have to be fit to withstand the tide, and you need to know how to bail safely. A good San Diego surf school can help, but you need to find an instructor who is certified, experienced enough to show you what you need to know, and willing to take the time to make sure you get it right.