If, as Leo Tolstoy once wrote in Anna Karenina, "All happy families are alike…," then all happy surf towns are, too. Certainly, in every happy surf town there are the same old salty surf dawgs on giant longboards who'll cut off the groms and never look back. There are the underground legends who could've gone pro, but never left. There's a robust amateur comp circuit and a local shaper who seems to make every other guy's board. There's a particular breakfast spot where every surfer in town eventually eats after a dawn patrol, hair still dripping wet, with the menus promoting various combinations of eggs all named after local surf spots, as if the "T-Street" is any better than the "Riviera." Most importantly, in all happy surf towns, every real local believes the same unanimous lie that sometimes, just sometimes, their homebreak can get as good as the best break on the entire planet.
Indeed, there are many of these surf towns all over America, but what, precisely, makes one better than the other? Wave quality? Quaintness? Seclusion? Proximity to a city with culture? Price of a "T-Street" with a side of bacon?
We've compiled this list, primarily considering quality of life and quality of surf, but also taking into account other variables such as climate, consistency and variety of waves, cost of living, culture, and availability of work. After consulting, researching, and heavy debate, we narrowed the expansive list of towns down to 10—our ranking of the 10 best American surf towns.
Without further ado, let the list begin, starting with…
No. 10: Huntington Beach, CA
"They're either out surfing, or they got a party going." The lyric from Jan and Dean's 1963 hit Surf City hit the nail on the head about Huntington Beach, California, and the town's reputation hasn't changed for half a century. Crowds battle for sets below the pier by day, and go on benders at any one of the city's clubs that line PCH by night. The U.S Open of Surfing, held at Huntington since 1959, is the personified collision of waves, commercial stoke, and neon-outfitted teenagers looking for some crazy. Of all the cities on our list, though, you'd be hard-pressed to find a community with a deeper appreciation for surf history, with names like Carroll, Fletcher, Llamas, and Nuuhiwa as proud strands in its DNA. It's also home to some of the country's most reliable beachbreaks, churning surf year round. If surf is your livelihood, and its culture your foodsource, Huntington Beach is your mana.
As in most Southern California towns, the chance of finding a peak to yourself is laughably small. Huntington Pier gets the most press, paparazzi, and people, but crowds can thin out depending on how far you're willing to scan the nine-mile long coastline. A long-period south swell can produce wave sizes up to 8-feet during the winter, though shoulder-high and less is normal. Luckily, there's not really a swell direction that Huntington doesn't like. The same goes for tide, both north and south of the pier.
Los Angeles is less than 50 miles away, and you can reach San Diego in under two hours by car, if you're willing to break speed limits and if you dodge the worst of traffic. Car congestion is an inevitable part of life in Southern California, but once you've made it into Huntington, you truly feel like you're in a micro-universe governed by the laws of beach life. Surf. Sunshine. Beautiful people. The nightlife can be as wild as you like, with no shortage of bars or clubs (Could be too young, depending on the crowd you run with. Costa Mesa, just 15 minutes away, is usually a more mature alternative for the 21+ audience). The scene gets noticeably more intense in the summer, reaching a fever pitch when the U.S. Open rolls through and the surf industry squeezes its already vice-tight grip on the town. In a sense, Huntington has embraced its theme-park parody of itself – you know what you're walking into.
Quality of Life:
Huntington has a higher cost of living than in most other parts of the country. But as far as living the engineered SoCal surf ideal, Huntington Beach is it. Suburbia effortlessly blends into city limits, so when that next stage of life with kids and a mortgage rolls around, you won't need to pack up and move very far, if your heart's set on the area.
Average Water Temp: 65
Average Air Temp: 64
Median Income: $83,252
Median Home Price: $ 725,000
Most Common Industry: Retail Trade, Tourism, Education
Nearest Large City: Los Angeles, CA (35 miles , pop. 3.976 million)
Premier Surf Spots: Huntington Pier, Huntington Cliffs
Local Talent: Brett Simpson, Kanoa Igarashi, Courtney Conlogue
[Head back to Surfer.com tomorrow for our No.9 reveal]