Here is the opening piece I wrote that was originally published in “Santa Cruz World Surfing Reserve,” by Save the Waves. Or you can click to download (PDF: 5.5 MB) the whole book. It’s a great read on why Santa Cruz is such a special place so many countless number of ways!
Aloha – Richard
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A Liquid Playground
By Richard Schmidt
Growing up in Santa Cruz as a surfer was an incredibly fortunate experience. I rode my first waves at the Rivermouth on an inflatable mat, along with my parents and three brothers. This was back before Boogie Boards, and some days there’d be as many as 40 mat riders out there mucking around, having a ball. It was a magical time to be a kid, and the sense of magic only intensified as I grew older and came to discover that Santa Cruz was awash in great surf spots—one liquid playground after another.
Eventually my brothers and I talked our parents into buying a longboard from a guy named Otto, who operated a surf shop near the base of the wharf. We spent endless hours taking turns on that old log at Cowell’s. I’ll never forget the feeling of gliding across the bay on that heavy missile, absolutely filled with adrenaline while gazing up at the coastal range and its redwood forests running to the sea. Once I caught that fever, there was no looking back, and from there it was onto a shortboard and into the bounty of surf up and down the coast. In the years since, I’ve been lucky enough to travel and surf around the world. But regardless of where I go, I always look forward to coming home.
It’s incredible to think of all the great surf spots stretched between Natural Bridges and New Brighton. No matter who you are, Santa Cruz has a wave that will fit your ability. They may not break every day, but almost all of them can produce world-class waves when conditions come together.
The most consistent breaks are along the two major points: Steamer Lane and Pleasure Point. Many times I’ve searched for surf north and south of town only to find that the best waves around were right under my nose at the Lane. My friends and I affectionately call it Hoover Point (as in the vacuum), because of the way it sucks up any swell—north, west, south, or any combination thereof. The innermost spot at the Lane, Cowell’s, is one of the world’s best beginner breaks, where waist-high waves will taper a quarter mile over a forgiving sand bottom. Up the point a bit, Indicators offers long, carveable walls for up-and-coming rippers to draw whatever lines they please on its wide-open canvas. And up at the top of the point, you’ll find old-school chargers air-dropping into draining, 15-foot, second-reef lefts.
I’ll never forget the feeling of gliding across the bay on that heavy missile, absolutely filled with adrenaline while gazing up at the coastal range and its redwood forests running to the sea.
Across town, Pleasure Point also serves up a smorgasbord of options with an array of kelp-groomed coves from Sewer Peak to Capitola. The waves here don’t have as much power as the Lane, but they make up for it with the huge range of choices: the sling-shot rights at Sewer Peak, the snappy little bowl with a wall at First Peak, the long, Trestles-like walls from Second Peak, and the longboard-friendly rollers of 38th Avenue (which can transform into a rifling barrel on a big south swell). Beyond that you have Ranch-like setups from the Hook down to Capitola, especially on a pumping swell.
Between Steamer Lane and Pleasure Point is Midtown, also known as the city’s banana belt. It doesn’t have the long point waves, but it does offer up the occasional gem, most notably the San Lorenzo Rivermouth. It may not break every year, but when it works—with a spinning peak that churns out draining rights and lefts— local surfers rejoice. If all this variety isn’t enough to stoke local surfers, throw in a national marine sanctuary filled with wildlife. An offshore upwelling produces nutrient-rich water, so the coastal ecosystem thrives here. I’ve had dolphins glide just below me in water so clear I could see them turn sideways to get a closer look, no doubt feeling pity for the terrestrial interloper who flaps about in the sea through which they glide so effortlessly.
One reason surfing has become indelibly etched into the Santa Cruz identity is because the breaks just look so tasty as you gaze down on them from the cliffs. Both the Lane and Pleasure Point are natural amphitheaters—all the action takes place directly below bluff-top walkways. Anyone out for a seaside stroll inevitably has his or her attention drawn to the fortunate souls cruising across those inviting green walls. Even locals who’ve never surfed eventually give in to its appeal, and as a result the whole community has surf fever. When the swell is up and the sun is out, stoke fills the air like sea mist. Everywhere you look, you see smiling surfers—from frothing groms to creaky seniors and everything between.
From a geographic perspective, it’s almost as if nature designed the coast of Santa Cruz specifically for surfers to enjoy. While the prevailing wind blows from the northwest, most of the town’s beaches face south. This means that when spots north and south are blown ragged by the breeze, the waves in Santa Cruz, with its chop-controlling kelp, are often glassy or groomed by
As a surfer, father and devoted local, I’m heartened to see that so many people appreciate how special this coastline is, and grateful that some of my peers have put in the hard work to have it declared a World Surfing Reserve. Now, when I watch my own sons playing on these waves, it comforts me to no end to realize that their kids will someday be able to do the same.