The Lost Surf Breaks of California
Sign near the gate at Hollister Ranch
Over time California has lost access to some of its surf breaks. In most cases it’s because of private land ownership, state park rules, and the worst of all, localism. Technically all of these are still open if you can get to them, but they are difficult now.
Here is our list of the surfing areas we have lost. A couple of these eight areas have several different surf spots so the actual breaks lost is much higher.
Cojo Bay at Cojo-Jalama Ranch, Lompoc
For many moons surfers were able to drive right onto this working ranch and hit several surfing spots around Cojo Bay Beach and Government Point. In recent years the only way to get here is by boat, but it is not easy as the nearest boat launch is the pier boat hoist at Gaviota State Beach twelve miles away. Few surfers ever get out to this remote place anymore.
Hollister Ranch, Santa Barbara County
Hollister has famous reliable surf breaks and six beaches along its 8.5 mile coastline. In the 1960’s surfers discovered this place and could drive up the Hollister Ranch Road to park near these surf spots. Now there is a gate where eager surfers are turned away by security. The surf breaks and beaches are still public property below the mean high tide level so it’s possible to surf here if go by boat. The Gaviota Beach boat hoist is the closest launch and it is much closer to the Hollister breaks than it is to Cojo Bay, but the seas can be rough so don’t attempt this unless you know what you are doing (note that this hoist is broken down regularly). As of 2019 there is ongoing litigation involving the California Coastal Commission and the ranch on how to provide public access while minimizing environmental impacts and preserving property owners’ rights.
Red White and Blue Beach, Santa Cruz
This beach has been shut down by the owner of the property behind the beach. For years this beach was a popular clothing-optional beach and the owners charged a fee for day-use parking, overnight camping, and beach access. But in 2008 they closed the gate and put up “no trespassing” signs. There is no easy way to get to this surf break any more. The property has recently been sold so let’s hope the new buyer opens it up to the public (yeah right).
Surfers at Wilder Beach
Wilder Ranch Beach, Santa Cruz
Land access to this beach in Wilder Ranch State Park has been closed to protect sensitive wildlife and bird habitats. Getting to the surf break is harder now, but it is still possible and we have seen people surfing there recently. They paddle over from Natural Bridges State Beach to catch these waves when the conditions are right.
Naples Point, Goleta
Naples Point used to be easy to get to by crossing a farm property between Highway 101 and the shoreline. This route is now posted no trespassing and is frowned upon (though some still take their chances to get here). It is legal to get here by carrying your board down to Haskells Beach below the Barcara Resort then walking north on the sand (except at high tide), but that is a long trek of over two miles.
Ed’s Surfing Beach, Goleta
Similar to the nearby right-hand break at Naples Point, Ed’s used to be easy to get to by crossing a farm from the 101. Now that they are enforcing the trespassing rules, the only way to get here is by walking for 2.5 miles the narrow beach from El Capitan State Beach. Considering the effort now, it’s best to hit the break at El Cap instead.
Surfer looking out at Palos Verdes
Palos Verdes Peninsula Surf Spots
There are several surfing areas on the peninsula from the San Pedro area of LA to Palos Verdes Estates that have been lost to localism. These beaches are no longer safe to surf at because of the hassles from local surfers who claim to own these spots. Lunada Bay is probably the poster child for surfing localism. Many stories have been told about tire slashings, property theft, and even physical abuse of non-locals who try to surf there. Hopefully the cops can make these places safe again so we can remove this area from the list of lost surf spots.
Martins Beach, Half Moon Bay
Martins Beach is the most publicized of all these surfing areas. Surfrider Foundation and a number of lawyers are fighting to get this beach opened back up to the public. Billionaire Vinod Khosla bought the property in 2008 and in 2010 locked the gate to keep out visitors even though for decades the previous owners allowed day-use access for a simple parking fee. In October 2017 the California Supreme Court told Khosla he had to open the gates, but he has decided to appeal the decision to the Supreme Court. It is unclear if the SCOTUS will decide to hear the case so we’ll have to wait and see what happens. Public shoreline access across all 50 states is at risk.