SEPTEMBER BUCKET LIST: AUTUMN IN THE GOLDEN STATE
Surfing in September means one thing—California. This is the run-up to autumn in the Northern Hemisphere, that magical season when the wind goes good and swells start to churn with consistency.
But unlike Europe and other Northern Hemi areas that love the fall/winter rush of north swell, California also has a window that opens straight into the Southern Hemisphere—which typically doesn’t go to sleep until after the equinox. The result? Good wind, good weather, early season norths and wests and late season souths. Plus, all the kids are back in school. Why would you go anywhere other than California?
Southern California is the epicenter of professional surfing, and for good reason. It was ground zero for progression and innovation both in the water and behind the planer for the better part of the 1940s and ’50s, and continues to be where the majority of the US surf industry is based. Surf zones like San Clemente (Trestles!), Santa Barbara (Rincon!), Los Angeles (Malibu!), San Diego (Blacks!), and Huntington Beach are loaded with both local and international pros like Filipe Toledo and Jordy Smith, and thrive under the consistent south swells that last well into September.
But full-time residents like Kolohe Andino and Rob Machado know that the true beauty of SoCal lies in the fact that a number of these zones pump just as hard when the winter swells start to track in from the north and west. Whether you are looking for big waves or small, fat waves or hollow, knee-high points or punchy bebeach breaksyou can find it all on the over-developed desert coast that stretches from Point Conception to Tijuana.
Plus, if the action in the water doesn’t satisfy, there’s always bustling nightlife waiting on shore—especially when the Hurley Pro comes to Trestles. And if the crowds get to be too much for you, you can always head down into Baja, which is essentially a thousand miles of SoCal, except without any people, buildings, or piped-in water.
Don’t let the cold water and swell shadow of Point Conception fool you—Central California has a lot of spots that pump on late-season souths, including well-known staples in Santa Cruz, and just as many secrets that you will never see in the magazines. And when those north swells start to filter down from the Gulf of Alaska—which they typically do in September—well, then things get really exciting.
Technically speaking, Maverick’s and San Francisco’s Ocean Beach are part of central California too, so whether you are a Santa Cruz logger like CJ Nelson, a hi-fi shredder like Nat Young, or a big wave machine like Pete Mel, you are sure to find what you are looking for on the Central Coast.
Northern California is rugged territory for rugged individualists who aren’t afraid to wear thick rubber, dance with sharks, and hike through the wilderness to surf waves you’ve never heard of. But the sacrifices are worth it, because this zone gets as good as it does empty. You are mostly looking for north and west swells once you get above San Francisco, although there are zones that pick up those inevitable late-season souths, like Crescent City’s South Beach. Bolinas, just north of SF, is popular with the longboard crowd, while everyman chargers can find a challenge on the hefty reefs of Point Arena.
Most waves in Marin, Sonoma, Mendocino, Humboldt, and Del Norte Counties are kept pretty quiet, but suffice to say that when swell lines start to stack and the fall weather cuts the fog and settles down the wind, all you have to do is drive north and look for beach access, and you are likely to score. If you actually do find other surfers in the water, just wear a black wetsuit, peel the stickers off your board, and come alone. Considering the shark situation, you’ll probably be welcome.
Depending where you post up in September, lineups could be overrun or completely empty, water temps could be boardshort friendly or booties/hoods/gloves only, and the waves themselves could be anywhere from ankle high to XXL. But despite the variety available along the 840 miles of coastline, it’s all California—and this time of year, it’s all California Dreamin’.
Cover photo: Ocean Beach by Girca.
(C) Towsurfer.com 2017