Winter is not necessarily a time when Santa Cruz surfers push their wetsuits to the back of the closet and plan a trip to Hawaii. In fact, surfing has been a Santa Cruz icon since the Hawaiians introduced the sport to locals in the 19th century.
For Rip Curl’s Northern California regional manager, Ryan Halpin, the seasons merely determine the surfing conditions in Santa Cruz.
“Santa Cruz surfing conditions are more consistent in summer and are bigger in winter, bringing more challenging waves and crowds,” Halpin said to compare Santa Cruz to other surf spots in California.
The local climate contributes to a uniquely strong winter swell that constantly changes wave height and is caused by offshore winds and low-pressure systems traveling across the central Pacific. Santa Cruz’s aptitude for quality waves and consistent year-round surfing conditions impacted the progression of surfing as a sport and molded the cultural identity and economy of the beach-laden county.
Josh Brown, a fourth-year and teaching assistant for the UCSC surfing class, said his top three favorite spots to surf in Santa Cruz are Pleasure Point, Its Beach and Steamer Lane.
Surfing since his youth in Isla Vista, Brown said Santa Cruz consistently has bigger and more challenging waves than Santa Barbara. His passion for surfing and knowledge of the sport is transparent, as is his effort to help others who are interested in surfing, at any skill level.
“In the water, I help with individual instruction, pushing people into waves and giving advice where I can,” Brown said. “We go to Rio Del Mar where there are no crowds and occasionally Cowell’s. Rio Del Mar is usually a quick, challenging beach break, but students are motivated to charge in and learn quickly.”
Fourth-year Julian Herrmann is involved with the UCSC surf team and claims to have surfed a 10-plus foot wave at Massive Middle Peak at Steamer Lane. Herrmann’s duties include directing all students who want to learn to surf in OPERS surfing physical education class. Thwarted by a scarcity of equipment and the necessary permits to host lessons, UCSC’s surf team must point newcomers to learn the sport’s fundamentals in the OPERS surfing class.
Hermann’s top spots to surf in Santa Cruz include Steamer Lane and Pleasure Point. He said Steamer Lane is at its best in winter time, especially when there is not a large crowd.
“Santa Cruz is so revered for its surf because there isn’t anywhere comparable in wave quality on the Western coast of the U.S.,” Hermann said. “The surf in Santa Cruz is pretty perfect.”
When he’s not busy overseeing operations as Rip Curl’s Northern California regional manager, Ryan Halpin enjoys surfing Steamer Lane, Lil Wind and Sea and The Hook.
Halpin explained why surfing businesses such as Rip Curl affect Santa Cruz’s economy and demographic in an immense way.
“Tourism is the second largest source of income in the whole county, and much of it is surf related,” Halpin said. “We see spikes in business and tourism when swell is up.”
Rip Curl customers span from students to tourists, Halpin said. Foreign visitors often travel from the EU, Brazil, Canada and other regions of the U.S.
Although tourism supplies a nice boost to sales, Rip Curl is proactive in galvanizing relationships with local residents and students, Halpin said.
“We pride ourselves on being a part of the community, so we have a healthy local following at both shops in town,” Halpin said. “UCSC is a main source of our business for certain items and at certain times of the year, like move-in day for freshmen.”
Employing many UCSC and Cabrillo College students at the two Rip Curl stores in Santa Cruz, Halpin stresses how surfing bolsters the larger Santa Cruz community, as surfing is at the heart of the Santa Cruz economy. The surf industry can thrive because of its large auidence, whether permanent Santa Cruz residents, tourists or students.
“Part of Santa Cruz’s history is surfing,” Halpin said. “Hawaiians first surfed [Santa Cruz] in California.”
For those brave enough to face the cold Northern California ocean in December, they will be rewarded with big waves.