Peter Heller is the author of Kook: What Surfing Taught Me about Love, Life, and Catching the Perfect Wave, a hilarious and moving story of one man’s attempt to learn to surf. Exuberant and fearless, Kook explores the technique and science of surfing, the secrets of its culture, and the environmental ravages of the stunning coastlines. The book won the 2010 National Outdoor Book Award, and has been hailed as a surf classic. Below, Heller recommends three of his favorite SoCal surf spots. “Everybody has to learn sometime,” Heller says. “At these beaches, the vibe is mellow and surfers are more likely to give you friendly tips than scream at you. Which is sweet.”
This quiet little beach town just north of Huntington Beach, Orange County might be the best place in the continental U.S. for beginner surfers. Why? Because of the Saint of Seal Beach, Michael Pless, and the M&M Surfing School he runs with his son Michael. A former Hell’s Angel, Pless became disabled as a young man when he fell off a telephone pole. He figured if he could teach himself to surf again, he could teach anyone. Now, celebrities come from Malibu and investments bankers fly in from Chicago for a morning class with him. Book a five day class: M&M Surfing 714-U-GOSURF.
When you are ready to graduate from surfing primary school, give yourself a break and head to a miles-long state park called Bolsa Chica. Just south of Seal Beach, you’ll find plenty of room to find your own wave—especially on a weekday. It’s one of the loveliest long beaches in the state; most mornings you’ll be greeted by a seal, or a pod of cruising dolphins. The waves can be dumpy or fine, so pick your day. Or don’t: it’s just so great to be out there.
A true classic longboard break and home of one of the sweetest, mellowest surf scenes in the country. San Onofre State Park, near San Clemente, where the Gidget-campfire-ukelele surf scene may have been invented. Do not go on the weekends, but go. The wave tends to be big and slow and the rides can be wonderfully long. Rumor has it that there is a great white shark nursery right under the break, but they seem to have the aloha spirit too, because they tend to leave the surfers alone.