You know we’re going to Surf City ’cause it’s two to one / You know we’re going to Surf City, gonna have some fun
Jan and Dean – not The Beach Boys, as is normally thought – pump through my brain as I exit the 405 freeway and head down toward the Pacific in Huntington Beach, California. Huntington Beach, Surf City. Yeah, this should be fun!
Huntington Beach, a city of more than 200,000 in Orange County, California, has laid claim to the title of Surf City since 1991, though Jan and Dean supposedly spoke of the city in their song, released in the 1960s. However, Santa Cruz, another boardwalk town near San Francisco, has also used the moniker since 1927. Court battles ensued, and in 2008, a settlement was reached allowing Huntington Beach to use the title, and associated trademarks. And to be honest, they have done right by it, with surf-themed art installations, merchandise, monuments, and more throughout the city’s main tourist drags of Pacific Coast Highway and Main Street.
Surf themed art
The beaches here are wonderful, and after parking in a metered spot on PCH, a walk along the sand – or for those who prefer, the paved bike/pedestrian path that covers the entire length of Huntington Beach, both the city beach and state beach – is in good order. The beach here is wide, easily fifty yards or more of sand separating the bike path and parking lots from the bright blue of the Pacific Ocean. Bonfire pits are set up routinely, along with spaces for volleyball nets, and many of these are in use, even at just after 11am.
Wide beaches next to the pier
The path is lined with a mixture of surf/bike rentals, snack shops, and restrooms, and beach goers are here in large numbers, enjoying the sun, sand, and waves. I walk past them, noting that while pretty much nobody is wearing a mask – Covid is still raging, after all – family units at least have plenty of room to distance from each other. I still keep my mask on, and avoid clusters of people wherever possible. Call me responsible or call me overreacting, but health comes first.
The main mecca for those preferring life on a surfboard to life on a beach towel is the Huntington Beach pier. Both sides of it have ample surfers, though the north side is the significantly larger grouping. The waves here are good – apparently; I wouldn’t know since I’ve never even tried to surf – and swimmers are discouraged from being near the pier due to the currents, so surfers dominate. It’s hypnotic just to watch, especially from the shade of the pilings underneath the pier itself.
All the surfers waiting for the perfect wave
This guy found his!
Surfing is the main draw here in Huntington Beach, and a statue on the corner of Main Street and PCH honors Duke Kahanamoku, who is credited for popularizing the sport. Nearby, the International Surfing Museum likewise honors the man, as well as the subsequent development of surfing. Currently closed due to Covid, it is a worthy visit when open.
After a morning on the waves, a surfer needs some food, and fish tacos are the Southern California surfer meal of choice. Main Street has no lack of places to go, but my choice is the iconic Wahoo’s, a local chain where the fish is crunchy, the slaw awesomely acidic, and the rice and beans merely average. Unfortunately, the lack of mask-wearing continues outside the confines of the beach, with probably fewer than ten percent of the pedestrians on Main Street masking up. Even police officers aren’t wearing masks. This is the downside of Orange County; its conservatism shows in staunch refusal to do the bare minimum to protect the health of the community, as well as in the multiple booths offering petitions to recall California governor Gavin Newsom over his handling of the situation.
I manage to weave my way back to the beach, finding an empty seating area to have my tacos while watching the waves and those attempting to ride them. The cool ocean breeze blows salty air through my hair, the bird calls and crashing of the waves fill my ears, and crunchy fish tacos fill my mouth and stomach. Life could be worse here in Surf City, though please, wear a damned mask!
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