By Ken McAlpine
Photo by Kamilo Bustamante
Not long ago California state legislators declared surfing California’s state sport, which is nice, but also a little like declaring wine the official beverage of France. Surfing’s roots run long and deep through California, and Ventura has played a big, though quietly understated, role in the state’s surfing story.
Which is precisely how Ventura likes it. Yes, it has produced world-class surfers and shapers. Yes, the annual California Street Classic Surf contest traces its roots back to one of the first professional surf contests held in California (Tom Morey’s 1965 Nose Riding Contest drew California legends like Mickey Munoz and Endless Summer’s Robert August). Yes, Ventura has some of the best waves in California, from the Santa Clara Rivermouth to C-Street and Emma Wood, and on up to Rincon (Santa Barbara claims it, but it is tucked just inside the Ventura County border). And, yes, no one makes a fuss about any of it.
Because Ventura’s surfers know what really matters.
“I love it here. We have this great variety of waves, and the caliber of the waves is some of the best in California,” says Makena Burke, who, at 15 and already a member of the USA Surfing National Junior Team, is poised to follow in the footsteps of local greats like Dane Reynolds and Sage Erickson.
Burke pauses. At 15, you can be wise beyond your years.
“In Ventura, I feel like we have really good waves, and we have really nice people. It’s so much more casual here. It’s sort of an outlier place. I’m proud to be a surfer from Ventura.”
Surfing isn’t about legislative proclamations, or trophies, or recognition, or International Surfing Day (though that’s what the third Saturday in June is), or any of the outside world’s noise. Surfing is a quiet thing. Quiet and irresistible. Anyone who has dropped into a wave, heart surging as the world falls away, understands.
Ventura is a fine place to understand.
Want to Learn?
Plenty of great outfitters offer surf lessons in Ventura. Some surf shops offer lessons, too (or they can put you in touch with folks who do), but either way, a good surf shop is a must visit. If you’re buying equipment (basically a board and a wetsuit; surfing is a minimalist’s dream), they’ll help you pick out what’s best for you, because surfboard design can be a confusing science. A local surf shop, staffed with local surfers, is also a great place for invaluable tips – like what spots are breaking best today.
A few top picks:
- Ventura Makos Surf Camp. Makos is owned by Jeff Belzer, a respected surfer in the community, and he handpicks his instructors; not just surfers, but also EMTs and lifeguards, and the level of professionalism shows.
- Mary Osborne Surf. Professional surfer, Ventura native, and outgoing adventurer, Osborne’s love of surfing is infectious. One class for ladies combines surfing, yoga, and a champagne brunch.
- Surfclass.com Run by the also-infectious “Chipper Bro” Bell, the instructors are second to none. Bell promises that surfing will change your life forever. He’s right.
- Ventura Surf Shop. VSS has been the go-to shop for locals since 1961. It’s a store for surfers, owned by surfers, and stocked with boards made by local surfer/shapers. It’s also a two-minute drive from C-Street.
- WaveFront Surf Shop. WaveFront is just a few doors down from the Ventura Surf Shop. Owner Randy Schaefer has surfed for over 50 years. He knows his stuff and his store is stocked accordingly.
- Walden Surfboards. A long-time local shop (1965), Walden specializes in world-class longboards. Few know shaping, and the local waters, like Steve Walden. His boards are distributed around the world.
- Rip Curl Surf Shop. Part of the global Rip Curls umbrella, the store on California Street stocks just about everything surf (including plenty of clothing), making it a great place to shop for both surfers and non-surfers.
- Proctor Surfboards. A real surfboard shop, which is why there’s just a small showroom up front: All the magic, and concentration, happens in the back. Todd Proctor has been custom shaping surfboards for 25 years for some of the best surfers in the world. Seaward Surf & Sport. The shop is only a half-block from the beach. And they offer lessons