The history of surfing and the history of San Diego are intertwined. It started in the early 1900s when Duke Kahanamoku and George Freeth would come to give giant demonstrations. At the time, people didn’t really believe in going the water. They saw the ocean as dirty and dangerous, and dressing down was against cultural norms. Certain parts of the body were kept covered. But Duke and Freeth changed all of that, popularizing both swimming and surfing in San Diego.
It’s hard to believe that anyone would abstain from going in the water. At the time, San Diego’s 70-mile coastline was pristine, reasonably warm, and very enticing. There were plenty of secrets to explore, underwater bastions of sea life, sea caves, and waves to ride–waves that curved in on themselves, waves that rushed out to shore, crashing into the sand. They seem to have been made to be ridden. It only seems natural that people would want to grab a board, paddle out, and experience the water.
San Diego has since liberated itself. Ridiculous striped swimming suits and dresses were replaced with the shorts and bikinis we’re used to today. Indoor living has since gone outdoors, and life takes place in the sand and water, not between four walls.
For decades San Diego has considered the beach its home. Shirts and shoes were for special occasions, and houses were for sleeping, not playing. For locals, their best memories were made on the beach. They protect that land, treasure it, clean it up, and conserve it. It’s where they live, and it’s easy to see why. San Diego’s beaches are beautiful. They were made to be appreciated, especially the ones we surf.
Chad McDonald / Flickr
Windansea is hallowed ground where professionals take on some of the best breaks in the city. It’s been this way for decades. History makers have been riding the waves there almost since the sport hit the state, but they’ve done so with caution.
Windansea is known for its sharp rocky bottom. A wipeout there could mean a concussion, a giant cut, or worse, and you have to know the lay of the land beneath the water. There’s sandstone formations sticking that can snag on your board. It’s better to wait until you have some experience and some respect from the locals before you paddle out.
If you do go, try to find some surf lessons in San Diego first, and come at high tide when the water is deeper. That will add some padding in case you have a wipeout. Many surfers have died or experienced a concussion on Windansea, and there’s no reason to become one of them.
This beach is also home to the Windansea Shack, which was built by Woody Ekstrom, Fred Kenyon, Don Okey and several others in 1947. They wanted a shady place that wouldn’t melt the wax on their boards and their families could stand and watch. Over the years the shack became host to legendary Hawaiian parties, where crowds would gather and hang out all night until the police showed up. It has since been destroyed many times, but the locals love it so much that they keep building it over and over again using as many of the original pieces as they can. It’s become a historic site.
La Jolla Shores
La Jolla Shores is part of La Jolla, known as the jewel of San Diego. It’s not because of any of the businesses, the homes, or anything else manmade. The neighborhood is special because it’s home to some of the greatest treasures on the coastline: an underwater canyon, a hundred-foot high kelp forest, sea caves, sea lions, and tiny coves.
La Jolla Shores is main beach in the neighborhood. In a region defined by small coves, rocks, and sea cliffs, it’s a refreshing 1-mile strip of sand, perfect for lounging in the sun or running through the waves. It’s also one of the best places for surf lessons in San Diego. The waves there are small and slow-moving, making them ideal for beginners who are learning how to balance themselves and pop-up on their boards. It’s great because you’re a lot less likely to fall, and you won’t have to worry about wipe outs or hurting yourself. The ocean floor there is sandy and smooth. If you’re hoping to find surf lessons in San Diego, La Jolla Shores is the beach for you.
Pacific Beach is another great place for surf lessons in San Diego. It’s considered a neverending party. If you come at night, you’ll find bonfires and 20-somethings lounging out in the sand, laughing, and drinking. There’s a constant thump-thump of club music on the boardwalk, ladies carrying their shoes, or standing in lines cordoned off by velvet ropes. During the day, there’s restaurants of all types: burgers, ramen, sushi, tacos–anything you can think of, and the food trucks are legendary.
Pacific Beach is also home to some of the city’s smallest waves. It’s where you can learn to ride the foam. Take advantage of the gentle surf. Use it to perfect your formation, build the core muscle groups, and practice for stronger waters. There’s a reason why so many people choose Pacific Beach for surf lessons in San Diego.
Robert Gourley / Flickr
Black’s Beach is something to strive towards. At any given moment the waves at Black’s are at least a foot higher than anywhere else in the city. The tide is wild. It pulls swimmers in, slams into surfers, and drags them down, and there’s an artificial reef not far offshore–quite the hazard during a wipeout. Everything about Black’s Beach requires expertise.
The beach is accessible mostly through a series of hazardous cliffside trails, marked off with countless signs warning off would-be hikers. The cliffs are 350-feet high and made of sandstone, and they’re known to crumble unexpectedly. More than one surfer has met their death there.
The beach is also home to the Mushroom House, an architectural oddity located beneath the cliffs. It’s built to withstand storms and rockslides, and though it has been blocked off from the public, it’s odd shape has made it a California icon.
Out of all of the beaches in the city, there’s nowhere as challenging or as frantic as Black’s. If you’re hoping to surf there one day, take your time, research, and find the best surf lessons in San Diego–people who know what they’re doing. Only the most experienced instructors can show you what you need to know.