State of the Beach/State Reports/CA/Surfing Areas
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Inventory and Perception of Status
California has approximately 648 well-known surf spots. The length and diversity of the coastline makes for a wide array of breaks with a full range of sizes and shapes. However, at several locations throughout the state, erosion, water quality concerns, development pressures, and other issues such as sea level rise threaten to impact the quality of the surfing experience and in some cases, threaten the continued existence of the surf spot.
This section of the state (north of San Francisco) is relatively undeveloped. No major population centers exist on the immediate coast, so many of the problems associated with urban runoff, interruption of natural sand sources, and blockage of coastal access are less of a concern here than elsewhere in the state. Pollution sources tend to be major industries such as paper mills and the associated logging industry.
Erosion problems, with subsequent shoreline armoring and/or beach fill have been the main focus at Ocean Beach in San Francisco. A portion of the cliff and parking lot at Sloat Avenue started to erode and fall onto the beach. The Department of Public Works' response was to dump large boulders along a 100-yard stretch to act like a seawall. However, Surfrider's San Francisco chapter and other groups convinced the San Francisco Board of Supervisors to add sand to the area instead of more boulders. The city of San Francisco's attitude toward these surfing areas has improved. The Mayor formed a Task Force that includes two chapter members to look at issues affecting Ocean Beach.
In San Mateo County, over-development is jeopardizing surf spots at Half Moon Bay and the county beaches in general. Also in San Mateo County is Martins Beach, where for decades, the property owner allowed the public access to the beach and waves. That changed when the property was sold and the new owner denied the public access. Learn more about this and watch this video.
Many of the surf spots in Santa Cruz County are being threatened by erosion, which in turn is bringing increasing pressure to build seawalls and other structures. A particular area of concern is the Pleasure Point surfing area in Santa Cruz, where bluff erosion has already caused 41st Street to be converted from a 2-lane to a 1-lane road, and a large section of the bluff has now been armored. Surfrider's Santa Cruz chapter has been heavily involved in this issue, as well as water quality issues at Cowell's.
PWC use has been restricted within the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary.
Beach erosion is a major concern in southern Monterey Bay, where a company called CEMEX has been mining sand from the beach for decades.
In San Luis Obispo County there are major access problems as approximately half of San Luis Obispo's 96-mile coastline is under private ownership or otherwise not open to the public. Water pollution from runoff and oil are affecting surf spots from Avila Beach to the Santa Maria River mouth, and shoreline structures (seawalls) threaten areas from Cayucos Pier to Chaney Avenue. San Luis Obispo County officials typically express more concern for generating tourist revenue from beachgoers than for protection of surfing and recognition of surfing as a recreational resource. A current water quality concern is high bacteria levels near Pismo Beach Pier. Surfrider's San Luis Obispo chapter is involved with this issue, as well as wastewater treatment upgrades in the Los Osos/Morro Bay area.
The city of Santa Barbara passed Measure B to provide an estimated $2 million for water quality improvement efforts. The Santa Barbara chapter was successful in forcing the removal of an "emergency" seawall at Goleta Beach. The Santa Barbara chapter is trying to protect Goleta Beach from destruction and has been working for 20 years to protect the Gaviota Coast from development and maintain this beautiful stretch of coastline for future generations. Rincon Point had long been impacted by outdated septic systems, but the houses there are now connected to a sewer system.
A great deal of attention has been focused on Surfer's Point, where the Ventura Chapter of Surfrider Foundation has worked since 1995 to implement a managed retreat plan to restore and protect the beach. Surfrider's plan, which is now being implemented, includes the relocation of the bike path and parking lot further inland, preservation of public beach access, restoration of the beach to natural conditions (including the replacement of the artificial fill under the retreat zone with cobble and sand), rebuilding the dunes and leaving a natural shoreline near the Ventura River mouth.
While general conditions at Southern California's surfing areas are fair to good, this area has been the center of many water quality issues. Orange County Sanitation District's 301(h) waiver, in effect since 1985 (making it the largest agency in nation using the waiver provision the Federal Clean Water Act of 1972), was noted above in the section on surf zone water quality. Although OCSD voted in July 2002 to abandon its waiver, it took another 10 years for treatment facilities to be built. There have been long-running water quality problems at local breaks such as Malibu's Surfrider Beach and near the Pico-Kentner storm drain in Santa Monica. Poor water quality at Malibu has been an issue for Surfrider's West LA/Malibu chapter since the chapter's founding. There were two pieces of good news at Malibu in 2010. First, both the Los Angeles Regional Water Quality Control Board and the State Water Resources Control Board ordered Malibu businesses and homes in the civic center/lagoon/beach area to begin a phase out of onsite septic systems. Second, Surfrider Beach in Malibu was designated as the first World Surfing Reserve in the United States. In 2012, restoration of Malibu Lagoon was completed, which hopefully will contribute to both better water quality and healthier wetlands/lagoon ecology. So far, the reviews are mixed.
A surfing area that has been lost for decades is Long Beach, which has been without waves since the construction of the Long Beach Breakwater in the 1940s. It did formerly have surf, however (see photo) and the feasibility of removing or modifying the breakwater is currently being evaluated.
Urban runoff from the Santa Ana River enters the ocean between Huntington Beach and Newport Beach. There have been chronic water quality problems at Huntington State Beach. At Seal Beach, the San Gabriel River brings urban runoff to Seal Beach. Urban runoff from San Juan Creek results in frequent health advisory postings at Doheny State Beach in Dana Point.
San Diego's Point Loma sewage treatment plant is another facility operating under a 301(h) waiver from the requirements of the Federal Clean Water Act. Surfrider Foundation's San Diego Chapter and others have long supported plans for an Indirect Potable Reuse project which would produce a high quality local water supply and greatly reduce wastewater discharges to the ocean. The San Diego City Council unanimously approved the Pure Water project in 2014. Untreated sewage flowing from the Tijuana River, continues to threaten water quality at Tijuana Sloughs, Imperial Beach and as far north as Coronado, especially after periods of heavy rain.
Other concerns for Southern California surfing areas include erosion and development. Solana Beach has several beach areas and surf spots threatened by large seawall projects. A development at Dana Strands in Dana Point includes a massive new revetment along the entire length of beach, in direct conflict with section 30253 of the Coastal Act. Predictably, the seawall has narrowed the beach and the development sparked a multi-year battle over beach access. San Onofre is threatened by beach erosion, coastal armoring and nuclear waste.
Recognition by State
According to CCC staff:
- California recognizes waves as a valuable recreational, economic, and cultural resource. It has taken action to protect surf spots. However, it has not calculated an economic value of surfing and surf-related activities.
- The California Coastal Access Guide does identify ocean recreation opportunities along the California shoreline; however, surfing areas are not listed in this document.
- Restrictions on beach recreational activities, including surfing, vary from beach to beach according to jurisdiction. Restrictions on surfing are based on health and safety issues - the need to separate users as a means of avoiding conflicts. Typically such restrictions are posted on-site.
Several sections of the California Coastal Act deal with the importance of preserving areas that provide coastal recreation. Although surfing is not specifically mentioned, the following Coastal Act sections can be interpreted as protecting surfing areas:
- 30210. In carrying out the requirement of Section 4 of Article X of the California Constitution, maximum access, which shall be conspicuously posted, and recreational opportunities shall be provided for all the people consistent with public safety needs and the need to protect public rights, rights of private property owners, and natural resource areas from overuse.
- 30213. Lower cost visitor and recreational facilities shall be protected, encouraged, and, where feasible, provided. Developments providing public recreational opportunities are preferred.
- 30220. Coastal areas suited for water-oriented recreational activities that cannot readily be provided at inland water areas shall be protected for such uses.
- 30221. Oceanfront land suitable for recreational use shall be protected for recreational use and development unless present and foreseeable future demand for public or commercial recreational activities that could be accommodated on the property is already adequately provided for in the area.
Sections 30220 and 30213 of the Coastal Act were recently referred to in a CCC staff report (see page 7) as "surfing policies":
- “Based on the aesthetics issue alone the project is inconsistent with the surfing policies (Sections 30220 and 30213) of the Coastal Act.”
Read more of the California Coastal Act.
The report California's Ocean Economy by Judith Kildow and Charles S. Colgan (National Ocean Economics Program, July 2005) estimates that there were over 1.1 million active surfers in California in 2000, spending a cumulative 22.6 million days in the water that year.
Surfrider Foundation Chapters
Surfrider's Del Norte (formerly Crescent City) Chapter works to protect the extreme north coast of California.
You can contact the Del Norte Chapter via email at firstname.lastname@example.org
The Humboldt Chapter has been reborn! Surfider Foundation's history in Humboldt County (http://surfriderhumboldt.wordpress.com/about/) includes a settlement won by Surfrider Foundation and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (at the time, one of the largest penalties levied by the EPA under the Clean Water Act, and the largest in the Western U.S.) that required local pulp mills to construct wastewater treatment facilities to eliminate toxic discharges to the ocean and extend their ocean outfall pipes.
Check out the Humboldt Chapter blog at http://surfriderhumboldt.wordpress.com/
You can contact the Humboldt Chapter via email at email@example.com
The Huntington/Seal Beach Chapter was formed in 1989 as the Long Beach Chapter and then expanded to incorporate Seal Beach and Huntington Beach. In late 1998 the Chapter split to be the Huntington/Seal Beach Chapter, leaving the Long Beach Chapter to concentrate on the Long Beach Breakwater issue. Currently the H/SB Chapter has more than 2000 members locally and from surrounding areas. The Chapter area includes Huntington Beach, Seal Beach, and inland to the foothills between the San Gabriel and Seal Beach Rivers. Their programs help make the public aware of environmental issues like runoff, litter, and the use of plastic that ends up in our oceans and on our beaches. They schedule Beach Cleanups to physically keep the beach clean and help volunteers learn what the problems are.
Check out the Huntington Beach-Seal Beach Chapter blog at http://hsbsurfrider.org/
You can contact the Huntington Beach-Seal Beach Chapter via email at firstname.lastname@example.org
Isla Vista is a predominantly college student town perched on one mile of blufftop north of the UCSB campus in Goleta, CA. The IV Surfrider chapter is unique in its make-up in that it has nearly entirely college-aged participants. The chapter creates both a social network as well as a program in which young people can take personal responsibility for the environment they inhabit and make a difference in their unique local community.
You can contact the Isla Vista Chapter via email at email@example.com
The Long Beach Chapter of Surfrider Foundation has more than 1000 members in the Long Beach area. The chapter's efforts mostly focus on the "Sink the Breakwater" campaign to bring waves back to the shores of Long Beach. The Long Beach Breakwater blocks waves from entering the beaches and "protects" the coastline of long Beach from erosion. The chapter believes that the breakwater can be reconfigured to bring back the surf and improve water quality, while at the same time allowing sufficient protection for the coastline. Other chapter campagins/activities include beach clean-ups, Rise Above Plastics, Blue Water Task Force and Ocean Friendly Gardens.
Check out the Long Beach Chapter blog at http://www.lbsurfrider.org/
You can contact the Long Beach Chapter via email at firstname.lastname@example.org
The Marin County Chapter has an active water quality monitoring program that supplements testing done by the County. Their campaigns include Rise Above Plastics and an evaluation of proposed ocean desalination and water recycling projects.
You can contact the Marin County Chapter via email at email@example.com
Two important issues for the Mendocino Chapter are water quality and coastal access. Since County water testing is infrequent, chapter members have supplemented the County's testing efforts and they report problems to Environmental Health in order to pressure them to test water when pollution is apparent. There are many volunteer opportunities available with the chapter.
Check out the Mendocino Chapter blog at http://mendocountysurfriders.wordpress.com/
Monterey Chapter Website
The Monterey Chapter is focusing a lot of effort on their Rise Above Plastics campaign.
Check out the Monterey Chapter blog at http://surfridermonterey.weebly.com/currents-chapter-blog.html
You can contact the Monterey Chapter via email at firstname.lastname@example.org
The Newport Beach chapter of Surfrider was founded in 1990 with a focus on water quality education and activism. Teach and Test, a water testing program for local high schools, is the foundation of the educational effort. They also actively support Surfrider's Rise Above Plastics program.
Check out the Newport Beach Chapter blog at http://newportbeach.surfrider.org/
You can contact the Newport Beach Chapter via email at email@example.com
The San Diego County Chapter is Surfrider's largest chapter and is very active in water quality and beach protection issues from San Onofre to the border. Contact them to get involved!
Check out the San Diego County Chapter blog at http://sandiego.surfrider.org/
You can contact the San Diego County Chapter via email at firstname.lastname@example.org
The SF Chapter has developed many local programs. One of their long-running issues is erosion at Ocean Beach. Contact them to get involved!
You can contact the San Francisco Chapter via email at email@example.com
Check out the chapter website to find out more about their many activities and important coastal protection issues. Get involved!
Check out the San Luis Obispo Chapter blog at http://slo.surfrider.org/
You can contact the San Luis Obispo Chapter via email at firstname.lastname@example.org
San Mateo County Chapter Website
In partnership with other Surfrider Foundation chapters and a coalition of marine protection organizations, the San Mateo County Chapter's mission is to protect the unique resources of the Monterey Bay and Gulf of the Farallones National Marine Sanctuaries. The chapter's Blue Water Task Force water quality testing program strives to improve the purity of water flowing from local coastal streams. Other chapter programs maintain, expand and improve public access to the region's shoreline, their beach cleanups work to keep beaches free of trash, and they offer a variety of educational events to the public.
The San Mateo Chapter's Blue Water Task Force Volunteers and the County of San Mateo work together to regularly monitor the water quality along the coast. They also own and operate their own water quality monitoring lab in Princeton by the Sea. If you are interested in becoming our Blue Water Task Force Volunteer, please contact the chapter today! Since the chapter was founded in 1998, they have made significant achievements:
- Established a Beach Cleanup Program: the chapter hosts regular member-supported cleanups of local beaches, particularly after busy holiday weekends and through the summer months.
- Launched Blue Water Task Force: This task force works with the County of San Mateo Environmental Health Department to frequently test the water quality at San Mateo County beaches and bring unsafe levels of contamination to the attention of residents.
- Central Coast PWC Campaign: In 2002 the San Mateo chapter became the first chapter in the nation to call for the restricted use of personal water craft ("PWCs" or jet skis) within the boundaries of the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary (MBNMS). In 2003, they issued a Joint Position Statement with a coalition of environmental groups on the use of PWCs within the boundaries of the MBNMS, and in June 2006 the National Surfrider Board of Directors by a unanimous vote approved the Chapter's Central Coast PWC Campaign position.
- Constructed their own water testing facility in collaboration with the Sewer Authority Midcoast (SAM).
A short history of SB chapter activism:
- Surfrider Foundation was founded in 1984 and the Santa Barbara Chapter was started in 1990 by Bob Keats, Keith Zandona and others.
- They successfully opposed the Isla Vista Seawall.
- They successfully opposed the development of a 269-foot-long rock revetment at Campus Point, although the pump house expansion was approved.
- They successfully appealed the Goleta Beach rock revetment emergency placement in 1999 and it was ordered removed, however, 2 years later the county again claimed an emergency and re-installed the rocks which are currently permitted under an emergency permit pending the DEIR. They continue to oppose this hardscaping approach to protecting the park in favor of a more natural approach will BOTH save the park AND protect the beach. UPDATE: See this victory at Goleta Beach and this website.
- They successfully opposed the construction of a golf course at the former ARCO site on the Gaviota Coast and they are in negotiations with the current owners, the Makar Development Corporation to preserve the site in perpetuity.
- They have been members of the Naples Coalition for several years. In that capacity they are working to reduce, restrict or eliminate the massive development planed at Santa Barbara and Dos Pueblos ranches on the Gaviota Coast. For the latest on this, see the Save Gaviota blog.
- They were the first group to do "storm drain stenciling" in Santa Barbara. This involves stenciling storm drains with something that says "Don't Dump Drains to Ocean". For years the chapter did this with paint supplied by the city of SB until finally the city took on the responsibility itself.
- They donated $1000 to the Carpinteria bluffs, $1000 dollars to the Arroyo Honda preservation effort, and $1000 "Save Ellwood". They also helped spread the word about all of those projects.
- They have submitted written testimony or letters of support on virtually every ocean water quality or coastal development or access issue that has come before any local agency. Examples; They supported Heal the Ocean's Rincon sewer project with letters to The Carpinteria Sanitary District, letter of support to Supervisor Firestone regarding the Arroyo Honda Steelhead recovery program, letter of support for increased funding of the county's Storm Water management Program, etc.
The Santa Cruz chapter was founded in 1991. Chapter members are united by their love of and respect for the ocean and by their desire for clean water, healthy beaches and access to such sites. Surfrider was founded by surfers and many of the members surf whenever they can. However, the chapter's members come from many walks of life, and anyone who shares Surfrider Foundations goals is welcome to join. And, when they speak of surfers, they include any and all of the tribe who ride the waves, including their own bodies, surfboards, body-boards, sailboards and kite boards!
Check out the Santa Cruz Chapter blog at http://santacruz.surfrider.org/
You can contact the Santa Cruz Chapter via email at email@example.com
The Sonoma Coast Chapter is made up of volunteers just like you. If you live or go to the beaches in the Sonoma Coast area, please contact the chapter, come to their next general meeting and get involved with the chapter's activities.
Check out the Sonoma Coast Chapter blog at http://www.scsurfrider.blogspot.com/
You can contact the Sonoma Coast Chapter via email at firstname.lastname@example.org
The South Bay Chapter of the Surfrider Foundation is very proud of the efforts they have made, and the successes they have achieved in making their communities better places to live and enjoy the ocean. At their core, they are an environmental organization that strives to protect and, where necessary, restore coastal and ocean ecosystems and ensure free and open access to the beach and waves. They are dedicated to making their work FUN AND REWARDING!!
You can contact the South Bay Chapter via email at email@example.com
The South Orange County Chapter covers the coast from Laguna Beach through San Onofre and has members who reside in all the cities of south Orange County. They were very active in their successful Save Trestles campaign to oppose extension of the Foothill Transportation Corridor, which would have passed through open space conservation areas, the inland portion of San Onofre State Park, and would have terminated near the world-famous Trestles surfing area.
Respect the Beach (RTB) is an award-winning coastal educational program that includes field trips, classroom lectures, handouts, video, and hands-on projects designed to coastal watershed processes, shoreline ecology and coastal areas stewardship to K-12 students and community groups. The Respect the Beach program is brought into classrooms by Surfrider members, who represent ocean environmentalism from the surfer's perspective, and who are role models that students can relate to. Other chapter programs and campaigns include Rise Above Plastics and beach access at Strands.
You can contact the South Orange County Chapter via email at firstname.lastname@example.org
Long-running projects of the Ventura Chapter are the Surfers' Point managed retreat and Matilija Dam removal projects.
- Surfer's Point Managed Retreat - Since 1986, the Ventura Chapter has been involved in a campaign for "managed retreat" at Surfers' Point. The plan of action that the Surfrider Foundation has proposed throughout this process has been to allow the beach to function naturally. For a decade the chapter has successfully opposed a planned parking lot and seawall, and has advocated relocating a storm-damaged bike path away from the beach and out of harms way. The latest news on this project as it moves into final design and construction can be found at http://www.venturariver.org/
- Matilija Dam Removal - The engineering concept for removal of Matilija Dam is described at http://www.matilija-coalition.org/ Also described are mitigation measures to address potential impacts to downstream water supplies. Initial designs have been prepared for the siltation basin and high flow bypass, and further design details will continue to be worked out through ongoing analysis and study. This consensus plan allows the process to move forward toward Corps Review, Public Review, and Funding Requests through the federal WRDA process. The project has received press in the Los Angeles Times and local newspapers.
The West LA/Malibu Chapter represents 31 miles of coastline from Ballona Creek to the LA County line and inland. Check out their programs.
Here's their Flickr page.
Check out the West Los Angeles-Malibu Chapter blog at http://wlam.surfrider.org/news/
You can contact the West Los Angeles-Malibu Chapter via email at email@example.com
Surfrider Staff Contacts
Central and Northern California Regional Manager
Southern California Regional Manager
California Policy Manager
California Policy Coordinator
Surfrider Foundation also maintains a California Region website with weekly updates.
The summary of surfing areas originally drew from Surfer Magazine's The Surf Report issues for the state. Surfrider Foundation Chapters were surveyed to establish surfing conditions and threats in the state.
There are numerous websites with information on surfing spots in California. These include:
- Surfrider Foundation 2002 State of the Beach Report, state survey response.
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