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San Diego Surfing & Surf Culture

Try your hand at hangin’ 10—or at least get the look

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Sometimes it seems as if everyone surfs in San Diego County. When the surf is up, there’s a steady stream of dudes (and plenty of dudettes, too) slipping into wetsuits. When they’re not in the water or on the beach, they’re driving their cars, boards strapped to the rooftops, heading for such fabled breaks as Bird Rock, Oceanside Pier, and the legendary Windansea (featured in the Tom Wolfe bestseller, The Pump House Gang). But why let them have all the fun? Try getting out on the waves yourself with a surf lesson from Surf Diva Surf School at La Jolla Shores, a popular spot for novice wave riders with sandy bottom beaches and gentle waves.

Short of that, the best way to truly immerse yourself in California’s surf culture may be to stop by Bird’s Surf Shed in Ocean Beach, where hundreds of boards are hung from every conceivable location, including the ceiling. It’s a place where surf films premiere and locals hang out and talk wave sets. Another legendary San Diego surf spot is Swami’s, so named for the Self-Realization Fellowship that sits high on a bluff overlooking a great break. Parts of the 13-acre property are open to the public and the lovely gardens beckon surfers and beachcombers alike to spend some time in a meditative state.

If you’re interested in learning about surfing history, the California Surf Museum in Oceanside celebrates the county’s surfing tradition. Step inside to see historic boards and exhibits honoring legends who have carved the waves here.

Throughout the county, especially in beach towns like Leucadia and Encinitas, you’ll find plenty of board shops, including Hansen Surfboards (open since 1961); stop by these venerable hangouts to get tips, or info on booking local lessons. And even if you never plan to get in the water, you can still buy a pair of board shorts and power up with breakfast at such classic surfer haunts as Pipes Cafe in Cardiff-by-the-Sea and Beach Break Cafe in Oceanside.

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