Visitors seeking a true California beach vacation can count on Santa Cruz for an iconic surfing experience tinged with nostalgia. From Hawaiian royalty to wetsuit pioneers, this classic beachside town on California’s central coast has been known for this sport of kings since it was first brought to the mainland in the 1800s. Here are a few fun factoids which add to Santa Cruz’s legacy as the nucleus of this historic California sport.
The Birthplace of Mainland Surfing
In 1885, three Hawaiian princes who were attending military academy in what is now Silicon Valley, came to Santa Cruz for vacation. Seeing the swell of the waves, they went to a local lumber mill and had surfboards crafted from redwood trees. Taking their new boards to the beach, they surfed the Pacific Ocean off the coast of Santa Cruz, and the sport of surfing was born in the United States. Today, surfers from all over the world come to Santa Cruz to ride the most consistent waves and widest variety of surf breaks in the Northern Hemisphere. Santa Cruz was ranked as the top surfing destination in the world (out of 10 chosen) by surfing expert Alex Wade in the Times of London.
The Capital of Surfing
If Santa Cruz is the birthplace of mainland surfing in the U.S., then the small beach community of Pleasure Point must be the capital! Nestled between Moran Lagoon and 41st Avenue, adjacent to the Monterey Bay, nearly a dozen famous surf breaks make this an ideal destination for skilled surfers. Wetsuit pioneer Jack O’Neill lives in the Pleasure Point community, where locals mix effortlessly with visitors eager to capture that authentic surf vibe.
Jack O’Neill: It’s Always Summer on the Inside!
In 1952, Santa Cruz resident Jack O’Neill opened his first Surf shop, starting his surfing empire from humble beginnings. Soon after, O’Neill experimented
with a newly discovered product – neoprene – pieced together to keep himself warm in the cold waters of Northern California. His vision took shape when he followed his own philosophy of It’s Always Summer on the Inside - also the title of his recently released biographical coffee table book which features stories and anecdotes of this legendary adventurer over the past 60 years. “I just wanted to surf longer,” Jack O’Neill said, launching the birth of the modern wetsuit. O’Neill’s company grew exponentially, going international in the 1980′s and continuing to transform the surf realm worldwide. Boasting global watersports teams, sponsorship for major competitions, wetsuit innovations and outerwear, O’Neill has transformed the surfing landscape worldwide.
Get on Board!
Speaking of surfing, when visiting “Surf City”, visitors can get in on the action with a surfing lesson. Perfect for first-timers and taught by long-time local instructors, these classes introduce surfing fundamentals, etiquette, safety, wave dynamics, paddling skills, surfboard positioning, maneuvering, proper stand-up and riding techniques. And stand-up paddle surfing, a Hawaiian sport originating as far back as the 1940s and gaining ground stateside, stand-up paddle surfing can be learned at any age. Because the goal of paddle surfing is to stand on the board and propel forward using a paddle, there is no pressure to catch a wave, so the sport can be enjoyed year-round. Have you already mastered the sport? Try a yoga lesson on a paddle board! It’s the latest craze to hit the waves. A number of schools in Santa Cruz offer lessons and yoga sessions so you can find your chakra while working out your core.
Of Men and Mavericks
In autumn 2011, principle photography began on a feature film entitled Of Men and Mavericks, the true story of local surfer Jay Moriarity (June 16, 1978 – June 15, 2001). Jay was an accomplished surfer, waterman, and adventurer. As a surfer, he made his reputation surfing legendary big-wave competition Mavericks in Half Moon Bay, California, just north of Santa Cruz. At age 16, he was made internationally famous when his wipeout at Mavericks was caught on film and made the cover of Surfer magazine.
Mavericks will showcase Jay’s hometown, Santa Cruz to the world, and the setting was the natural choice for the location of this feature film. Co-starring Gerard Butler, Mavericks is scheduled to be released in October 2012.
Santa Cruz Surfing Museum
Are you intrigued with surfing but want to stay dry? Check out the Santa Cruz Surfing Museum, housed inside the Mark Abbott Memorial Lighthouse, which overlooks the internationally renowned surfing spot Steamer Lane. The museum includes historic photographs, early wetsuits designed by local Jack O’Neill, unsinkable vintage redwood surfboards and other items tracing over 100 years of surfing history in Santa Cruz. Many retired surfers from the 1950s and ’60s now volunteer at the museum, sharing their past experiences with visitors.
Free Surfing Events
For die-hard surf lovers with a taste for nostalgia, the Santa Cruz Longboard Union hosts the Annual Longboard Club Invitational each year, the oldest and longest-running surfing event on the west coast. Featuring both professional and amateur surfers in 11 different age groups, these athletes will be performing in one of the best surfing venues in the world. Scheduled each Memorial Day Weekend in May, the event is a great way to cheer on longboarders of all ages in all their cross-stepping, noseriding, drop-knee-turning glory. The event also features a tandem surfing event, a format not seen very often anymore.
At the Aloha Celebrity Races and Polynesian Festival, onlookers can hula their way through flower lei’s, shaved ice, Maori face painting, print making, traditional dancing and other island arts. This open-air festival, which takes place each August at the Santa Cruz Municipal Wharf, features teams of novice adventurers who jump into the nearest outrigger and paddle their way to the finish line, cheered on by the crowd. Sponsored by the Pu Pu O’Hawaii Outrigger Canoe Club and designed especially for new and novice paddlers, this annual event is a chance to discover the excitement of outrigger canoe racing, as teams glide along the cool blue waters of the Monterey Bay. Teams come from as far away as Reno and Tahoe, and consist of groups of friends, as well as corporate colleagues.
Finally, Northern California’s largest woodie show features dozens of classic “surf mobiles” from all over the West Coast. Take a cruise down memory lane at Annual Surf City Classic: Woodies on the Wharf, each June at the Santa Cruz Wharf. In the early 50′s, woodies were a cheap mode of transport for surfers who would take out the middle and back of the cars to load surfboards. This event features more than 150 stylish, pre-1952, wood-bodied cars are showcased all along the south end of the Wharf. Spectators can vote for their favorite car in the People’s Choice awards while participants in the show will determine the Best of Show honors. Music, children’s activities and a raffle promise something for everyone.
For more information, go to visitsantacruzca.co.uk
Santa Cruz County, California is located approximately 70 miles/113 km south of San Francisco and 349 miles/562 km from Los Angeles. Many visitors choose to take scenic Highway 1 along the California coastline to Santa Cruz, or Highway 17 through the Santa Cruz Mountains. Visitors can also choose to fly in to San Francisco International Airport or Mineta/San Jose International Airport