Back in 1971, a Sports Illustrated article about bodysurfing not only anointed Southern California “the cradle of the sport,” but proclaimed the Wedge at Newport Beach “the undisputed, full-out, righteous…king of body-surfing spots.”
Decades later, that assessment is still spot-on. The Wedge—where 20-foot waves frequently pound up against the man-made jetty that marks the entrance to Newport Harbor—is without doubt the premier bodysurfing spot in the country. The best part, though, is that you don’t have to brave the waves to enjoy it. In fact, given how rough the Wedge can be (especially after fall or winter rains), you might be better off joining the locals, who come by the thousands to laze on the beach and just watch the action when the surf is up.
Most of the year, the Wedge is even considered too raucous for most traditional surfers. Happily, though, any surfer (or bodysurfer) has plenty of other options along Newport Beach’s eight-plus miles of coastline. Despite its world-class credentials, you won’t find much serious-surfer attitude or territorialism along the beaches of this Orange County town—but rather a mellow, welcoming vibe.
With waves seldom more than knee-high, Newport Beach’s Little Corona is great for inexperienced surfers—but the waves are sweet when you catch one just right.
Take Little Corona, for instance, which is south of the harbor entrance. With waves that are short and seldom more than knee-high, this is a great beach for Barneys (inexperienced surfers)—but the waves are sweet when you catch one just right.
If this isn’t your first time riding the curl, you might want to try Blackies, just north of the Newport Pier. During the winter, northwest swells can produce perfect medium-size waves that draw surfers of all abilities. In the winter, it’s a little calmer, attracting wahines (women) with their kids, as well as gray bellies (older surfers) who prefer longboards to a short stick. Bonus: If the surf’s not up, join the locals sitting on the concrete wall separating the beach from the parking lot and sip coffee while enjoying the morning.
Further north, the beach between 52nd and 56th Streets, long known as Echo Beach, attracts serious surfers like pro Andrew Doheny, who grew up surfing at 54th Street and is considered one of the best surfers in the world. Indeed, Echo Beach—a 2009 documentary about Newport Beach’s 1980s surf culture—can often be seen playing in a loop at surfer grub joints like TK Burgers (as in “The Kind”), across from the Newport Pier; you can watch it while enjoying a classic traditional SoCal charbroiled burger, or perhaps a rib eye or ahi steak sandwich.
And if you need to learn to surf first? Take lessons at local spots like Endless Sun Surf School, Newport Beach Surfing Lessons, or Newport Surf Camp. And certainly, you’ll need some gear. A few blocks north of the pier, visit The Frog House, Newport’s quintessential surf shop. The Frog has been around since the early ’60s, and looks it: It’s chock-a-block with used surfboards, body boards, wetsuits, surfing DVDs, as well as skateboards and other surfer paraphernalia—so even if you’re not a pro, you can look a little more like one.
— David Lansing