There’s no sport quite like surfing and there’s nowhere in the world that’s quite like LA for it. The Pacific Ocean throws itself against the American coastline year after year, and in the summer everyone, from newbies to pros, comes to LA to see what it is – and they are – made of. With absolutely no knowledge of the LA surf culture, I decided to throw myself into the waves with my semi-professional surfing cousin. I was in for two weeks of surfing hell, but it was a great way to learn a bit about the history of surfing in California and what the modern surf scene in the city is all about.
So where to start. Well, my home beach was in the rather trendy, highly priced and very exclusive neighborhood of Santa Monica (my cousins home is right next door to screaming US singer songwriter Cher). While the house wasn’t a mansion, it did have the best surf beach right on its doorstep. Little did I know it, but I’d also come at just the right season for the best waves- this happens to be in March. If you don’t have a semi-pro surfer cousin and need hotel accommodation then make sure to check availability in the Los Angeles area, because sleeping on the street is just not fun. I digress, back to my surf lessons.
I took to surfing like a fish to water. There was only one problem and it was a big one; I was a terrible surfer. However, as with so much in life, persistance really is the key to achieving mediocrity. So despite my initial failure and thanks to plenty of helpful surf tips, within a week of starting I was at least standing on my board. Feeling elated after this minor success, my cousin decided to introduce me to the wide boulevards of Los Angeles and the cities many beaches.
The different beach scenes and their dynamics end up sounding like a badly written American high school drama. You’ve got your hippies, jocks, dudes, dweebs, surfer-dudes (yes, they’re different), cats, jugglers, rockers and others. OK, I made some of those up; but looking back I’m not sure what ones. The point is that one of the wonderful things about the scene in LA is how varied and individual it can be, over a coastline of just 72 miles. The question you might be asking is with so much coastline available, what beach should you choose? Well here are my top four (if you are not satisfied with just four, here are a few more surfing beaches in LA).
If you’re more interested in the people than the waves, head to Venice beach. This place’s flotsam and jetsam expresses itself on the sidewalk, not the sand; and man, what characters they are. Here, your hippies, jocks, dudes, dweebs and so on mix with average-Joe Americans, tourists, palm readers, and if you’re very lucky, that turban-wearing, roller-skating guitarist that you will have seen in that LA movie that one time. I wasn’t going to mention his name but I just had a Google and it fits in with the Venice beach vibe perfectly – he calls himself the Karma Kosmic Krusader. Perfect.
For a more family-friendly vibe, man, head to Santa Monica. This has all you need to take the family out for a tour of an LA beach without having to worry about the teenagers grabbing themselves some of the green stuff or granny grabbing herself some of the other teenagers. Probably.
Surfrider beach is one of the best if you’re more interested in the surfing but don’t want to anger any of the locals. The place is always crowded for the excellent reason that the waves are, probably, the best (if you’re a beginner, read: worse) you can get. For those who want to learn how to surf without getting knocked out or knocking someone else out, check out Topanga beach; although it can still get a little crowded, no one will be going fast enough to cause you any real damage.
Manhattan beach is also pretty good for long, drawn out surfing and big waves; and for checking out the local celebrities. The real estate round the area is, well, a lot. The kind of place where the old maxim “if you have to ask, you can’t afford it” still applies. It’s where Two and a Half Men would be set, if it wasn’t set an hour up the coast, in Malibu. Which, by the way, is also worth a visit.
And if you’re not really interested in the beach side of things at all, check out the rest of LA! It’s not all about beaches and the inland of the county has some pretty interesting stuff to see, too. Have a go at holding up the HOLLYWOOD sign. Go on. You know you want to.