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.
No. 8: Ventura, CA
Well south of Point Conception, the physical line dividing Southern California from the wild lands to the north, Ventura nevertheless does its best to stay removed from the hordes to its south. A working class-ish vibe pervades Ventura, though, like anywhere else in California south of, oh, say, Mendocino, if you're living by the beach in Ventura, there's a good chance you're doing pretty well. If you hail from any further south than Oxnard and you make it known, be prepared for some focused stinkeyes at testosterone-charged breaks like Silver Strand (Oxnard, technically). But despite a rep for heavy localism in the past, Ventura has enough variety to offer a little something for every surfer: points, punchy beachbreaks, even an offshore, deepwater reef. Don't like the vibe at one spot? No prob, Ventura's got lots more.
Whaddya like? World-class points? Rincon, typically considered part of Santa Barbara, is actually in Ventura County, but the Queen is just one of a series of classic right points dotting the coast, including C-Street, Pitas Point, and Little Rincon. Beachbreaks? Emma Wood's good enough for Dane Reynolds, so it's good enough for you. If sand-bottom barrels are your thing, Silver Strand (yes, yes, Oxnard, we know) has you covered, as does the Santa Clara Rivermouth after a heavy rain. Offshore of Emma Wood, the Overhead beckons; a deepwater horseshoe reef that'll go well over double-overhead on big winter west swells, providing a dose of adrenaline when you're tired of bumping rails at Rincon. Speaking of west swells, those are your friends here. Unlike Santa Barbara to the north and west, the Channel Islands don't block wests as much in Ventura. Summer, though, is foggy, windy, and tiny, with south swells having a harder time finding their way into Ventura's nooks and crannies. Have no fear, south-swell lovers: Jalama is an easy drive north, and Malibu is a stone's throw the other direction.
Well, did we mention that Santa Barbara is just up the road? Laid-back, working-class Ventura is on a decidedly different program than the Santa Barbara Riviera zone. More taquerias than tapas, more donuts than avocado toast, more local IPA than Santa Ynez pinots. This is a surf all day, grab a burrito or burger kinda joint. They do the basics here and they do them very well. Itchy feet? L.A. is a short drive away.
Quality of Life:
That said, this is still Southern California, and the good life is easily found. Pleasant neighborhoods, family-friendly, Ventura still feels like the place you can make a go of it in beachside California even if you aren't rolling around in a Tesla. Terrific weather, warm-ish water, plus most of the amenities of a major urban zone without feeling overwhelming.
Average Water Temp: 60
Average Air Temp: 60
Median Income: $80,032
Median Home Price: $553,750
Most Common Industry: Healthcare, Education, Agriculture
Nearest Large City: Los Angeles, CA (65 miles, pop. 3.976 million)
Premier Surf Spots: Ventura Harbor, C-Street, Emma Wood
Local Talent: Dane Reynolds, Timmy Curran, Nick Rozsa, Matt McCabe
[Head back to Surfer.com tomorrow for our No.7 reveal]
Best Surf Towns 2017