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Up the PCH

A quick trip up the Pacific Coast Highway provides a great introduction to Southern California’s surfing and coastal heritage.

I am embarrassed to say that I really haven’t surfed much north of Trestles.

When I learned to surf it was easier to cross the border to Baja then head north, where the rumors of ugly localism, crowds and higher costs dissuaded me and my friends from surfing Southern California's iconic breaks.

So, I have never surfed Malibu, and I have only surfed Rincon in the past few years during the Sharing the Stoke Surf Classic.

But now that surfing Baja is not as fun—or as easy—as it used to be (and the fact that most of the spots between Tijuana-Ensenada are fenced off), I often head north with my two teenage sons and their friends. Especially when IB is polluted.

And, during Spring Break, IB was very polluted. So, I spent three days carting around my sons and their friends Shane Landry and Joe Fernandez to Scripps Pier, La Jolla Shores and Black’s for uncrowded and fun waves.

On the Thursday of Spring Break, my sons and I departed at 5 a.m. (a late start for us) on our way north to Santa Barbara. I was scheduled to give a talk to the Santa Barbara Chapter of the Surfrider Foundation that evening, and we planned to hit Trestles on the way up, then head north on the Pacific Coast Highway from Santa Monica to Santa Barbara.

Our first stop along the way was Trestles. Our session at Lowers proved why Surfline recently called it one of Southern California’s "most rippable summertime attractions." The mid-morning crowd at Lower’s was manageable, the water was in the low 60s and the southern hemisphere swell provided great 3- to 5-foot rippable walls.

My strategy at Lower’s is to sit inside and outside the main local crew (who are usually friendly). I patiently wait for the swing sets or the waves the outside crew miss and if I’m lucky can get a great right all the way into the inside. The boys tend to sit on the inside with the grom pack and pick off the waves that everyone else misses.

After two hours, the boys and I headed back on the trail to the Christianitos parking lot. After loading up our gear in the pickup, we made it over to the Pipe’s Café, a true surfer hangout with giant photos of epic waves and surfers at Trestles lining its walls. The breakfast burritos the boys ordered were so big they couldn’t finish them (a historic first). I stuck with a veggie omelet.

The minute we hit the PCH from I-10 in Santa Monica, we were in the upscale world of Pacific Palisades. The upscale shops and houses that line the highway almost obscured Surfrider Beach at Malibu. But it was small and crowded. Not worth a stop after our session at Lower’s.

I hoped that Point Zero, Leo Carrillo or County Line would provide material for our second session of the day. Point Zero and Leo Carrillo were small. But County Line inexplicably had 4-foot sets on the beach in front of the highway. The point itself had only one surfer and offered up clean 1- to 3-foot rights.

The boys chose the beach break peaks. I paddled out on my new 6'2" Mini-Simmons and proceeded to catch about eight to 10 fun rights for a quick 45-minute session. After surfing, we crossed the street to the legendary Neptune’s Net seafood restaurant that surfers have frequented since 1958. We scarfed down fish and chips, and a crab cake burger. It was a great finish to a fun session.

My talk in Santa Barbara went well, and the boys and I slept soundly after our long day and two surf sessions. The following day was to be the grand finale—a trip to the Hollister Ranch.

At the invitation of a Ranch resident we spent the morning cruising the amazingly beautiful and bucolic coastal seascape of Southern California’s only private coastal cattle ranch and super high-end coastal residential retreat (one estate is on the market for $22 million!). While the surf was small, the boys scored a fun 2- to 3-foot session by themselves at Rights and Lefts.

As the boys came in from their session, a pod of gray whales frolicked offshore. It was a fitting goodbye for a great trip along Southern California’s historic surf highway.

 Serge Dedina is the Executive Director of WiLDCOAST and the author of Wild Sea: Eco-Wars and Surf Stories from the Coast of the Californias.

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