There are two surf “zones” in this world: “surf spots,”and the lesser categorized “breaks.” A surf spot comes with cultural trappings—history and legend—which transcend national borders and linguistic barriers. It is also, 99.9 percent of the time, a really good wave. A break is a beach or a reef or a physical outcropping of geography, man-made or not, where waves break and surfers ride, but without any cultural significance, without any distinguishing facet or global renown. A break is simply a place where swell meets shoreline and waves topple over. A surf spot, however, is a much grander entity.

Surf spots are easy to rattle off: Bells, Waimea, Sebastian. However, like the U.S. Supreme Court’s wrangle with pornography, a break is harder to define—you just know it when you see it. Or when you hear their names. Oahu’s Monster Mush for example, or Middles(between Lowers and Church), or Indicator (a sign of better things to come).

It’s quite possible that your local spot, that place you’ve been checking since you were a grom, is not a legitimate surf spot at all, but rather, just a break.

How do you know? Well, for starters, if people plan surf trips to ride waves at your spot, then your spot is a surf spot. Otherwise it’s just a break. Surfers go to Hawaii, for example, to surf Sunset Beach or Velzyland. Surfers do not plan trips there to score “epic” Freddyland. Now, I’ve caught some pretty fun waves at Freddyland, but it is not a legitimate surf spot. It is a last resort—a place you’ve been relegated, either directly or indirectly, by large Polynesian men (or, as is more often the case, not so large men who wish they were Polynesian).

A couple of other filters for you to digest: Did Buzzy Trent dive for lobster where you ride waves?
If yes, it’s a surf spot—globally agreed upon and culturally accepted legend, history and/or lore that propagated from where you catch waves makes your spot a spot, regardless of wave quality.

Does your local surf zone have the word “little” in front of it? Not a spot. Groms have named non-performing, eel-grass peaks from Point Loma to Santa Cruz with monikers such as “Little Teahupoo” or “Little Velzyland.” Um…no. Sorry. Any break with “little” in front of it suggests less than–therefore, not a spot.

And by the way, just because your break has a parking lot does not make it a surf spot. There are plenty of crappy waves in front of parking lots. North Carlsbad State Beach, for example: great parking lot, large restroom, information kiosk…not a surf spot. Same with surf cams. Virginia Beach has a surf cam, but it is not a spot. No sir, Virginia Beach is a large liquor store with a zip code.

So, is your spot a spot? Or is it just a break? And another question: If you’re surfing a spot that’s not a spot, can you even call yourself a surfer? Chances are you don’t need my criteria to tell you–you probably already know.