A Beginner's Guide to Bay Area Surfing

A Beginner's Guide to Bay Area Surfing


Summer's here and the Bay Area surf is...down. While that's bad news for experienced local surfers, it's great news for anyone interested in learning. In the Bay Area, summer is definitely the best time for beginners.

Why? For starters, the Northern Pacific waters are still cold, but not that cold, during the summer months. You'll need a wetsuit, but not necessarily boots or a hood. Also, sharks are off migrating somewhere else this time of year, so for the most part, there's no need to be edgy about “the Landlord" (surfers' affectionate nickname for great whites). But best of all, the waves are consistently small and mushy during the summer, which makes them the most beginner-friendly you'll find all year, and a welcoming contrast to the raw power you'll encounter during the fall and winter.

Within an hour's drive of San Francisco, there are a bunch of manageable beginner spots: Cowell's in Santa Cruz, the Jetty in Half Moon Bay, Linda Mar in Pacifica and Bolinas in, well, Bolinas. San Francisco's Ocean Beach also has small waves during the summer, but even on a small day, Ocean Beach can pack a wallop. It's important to be aware of your limits and to respect them, as well as the power of the ocean.

To learn to surf, you'll want to get your hands on:

  • a board — preferably a big one to get started, because the bigger your board is, the more stable it will be
  • a wetsuit — in the summer, you probably won't need more than a 4'3" (which refers to the thickness of the wetsuit), but if you're really worried about the cold, get a 5'4'3"
  • a friend with a car big enough to carry your board.
  • someone who can show you how to surf, and can also teach you surf etiquette so that you don't end up in anyone's way.
  • A “stoked" attitude. While that may sound lame, it's worth remembering. Surfing is fun. That's why people do it. So treat it like it's fun, don't get discouraged, and you'll probably have fun.

Toward that end, we've teamed up with The Scuttlefish, a website celebrating all things ocean, to bring you their recommendations for getting set up with the surfing essentials in San Francisco. Here's where to start:

Adventure Out gives two-day lessons in Santa Cruz and Pacifica, a quick drive south of the city. Their instructors are patient and solid, and they include all the gear you'll need. The classes are a great combination of practical and theoretical knowledge and they teach you both skills and etiquette important for staying safe and having fun in the water. Recommended. (800-509-3954)

For those who might want a more DIY approach, you can rent a board and a wetsuit at Aqua Surf Shop on Sloat for pretty cheap (415.242.9283). Equally affordable is NorCal Surf Shop in Pacifica (650.738.9283), which is closer access to Linda Mar, home to more of a beginner wave than what you would find at Ocean Beach.

The Scuttlefish is a website celebrating the lovely, terrifying, powerful, mysterious, soothing, angry, calm, merciless, and awe inspiring sea. We'll be publishing parts of their their Definitive Guide to Oceanic Fun in San Francisco over the coming months to bring you tips on maxing our your enjoyment of our local waters.

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