Newport Beach is made of opposing pieces, sewn together like Dr. Frankenstein’s monster. Crusty old surfers carry sun-yellowed boards down the beach searching for waves, while affluent housewives lay on the sand in a Xanax-induced haze, killing time between collagen injections. With the amount of exposure Newport receives, and the fact that it has more pro surfers per capita than anywhere else on earth, you might expect consistently good waves--but you'd only be half right. There’s usually something to ride in front of the thousands of vacation rentals lining the coast between Crystal Cove and the Del Mar River Jetties, but paddling out will seldom be a life-changing experience. The surf industry loves Newport because it is the industry’s playground. When evenings run late, you’re seldom concerned with the surf at sunrise.
Alex Knost chugs through his hometown in a mildly-creepy van, scouring the coast for waves in the early hours, and always with interesting (and often self-shaped) crafts in tow. On this particular summer morning, I met up with Alex and fellow log-master Jared Mell in the parking lot at Blackie's. It was mid-morning and the lifeguards were perched like dubious sentries--megaphones in their hands, and a desire to blackball in their hearts. In an hour the ocean would be overrun with inland adventurers and kids with neon water wings.
The scene was typical for this time of year in Newport: slightly bumpy, mostly gutless rights and lefts with a fair amount of people bobbing through the lineup, vaguely interested in their present activity. But therein lies the advantage to riding a single-fin plank. Alex and Jared split peaks, sliding their logs over flat sections like cubes of butter across hot frying pans. They're stylish nearly to the point of parody, but were clearly having the best time of anyone in the lineup. Alex stood up on a wave, cross-stepped to the nose, turned around and hung his heels over, before nimbly moving back to the tail and whipping a smooth carve. Jared did one better than a fin-first takeoff, stroking backwards on his stomach into a left-hander with his feet toward the beach. He stood up as the board rotated and kept complete control as he spun around and started his line.
The piercing distortion of a lifeguard's megaphone ended our session, and sent us off in pursuit of lunch. We went to Mother's Market in Costa Mesa where we were joined by several of Al and Jared’s friends. It was health-conscious fare, where organic sprouts and kale-infused smoothies abound. We left with the intention of a second session, but the wind had picked up and what was playful mediocrity an hour before had mutated into full-blown dog shit.
Luckily, a foolproof coping mechanism came to mind, and we headed to a local pub for a few pitchers of Sierra Nevada, and discussed the best way to kill time in the Newport area.
Although Newport is most consistent during the winter, its exposure to both north and south swells means there are usually rideable waves somewhere year-round. "I usually surf in front of Ford [Archbold]'s house, at River Jetties," says Alex. "The shape isn't necessarily as good as 54th Street, so, if you're reading this, you probably don't want to go there. There are less people at River Jetties, but it also gets really swamped out with the high tide. It gets too high tide for people to ride your average shortboard, but it works out pretty good for flat rockers and single fins--you can surf through the high tide and it won't be as crowded. It's a little more closed out at River Jetties, but there's more face, so it's easier to ride bigger boards, whereas 54th street has such a compressed take-off spot. So, if you're riding bigger boards, you can't help to feel some sort of an inconvenience. I usually surf River Jetties or Newport Point. Newport Point gets really good, but it's probably the least consistent wave, in terms of getting it really good. If there's wind swell, Newport is kind of the place to be in some weird way. You surf a lot of other areas that are really nice during long-period swells, but Newport gets pretty closed-out on those. Wind swell helps break it up and make it peaky."
Newport and Costa Mesa are joined at the hip, and between the two there are more quaint cafés than you can shake a vegan scone at. "I go to Mother's after surfing usually. They have good food, and I have friends that work there, so it's nice to visit them. The food there seems to give you a little bit more momentum for the rest of the day, rather than eating a giant burrito that puts the day on hold--you don't really feel like doing much of anything after that. Mother's has some food that gives you some fuel. It's more like food and less like eating, you know? But there's also lots of like really nice coffee shops. Alta down in Newport is pretty good. If you want to stay near the beach, they opened up a couple of expensive spots, but then there's also really cheap donut places, which are nice for coffee, bananas, bran muffins, and stuff like that."
Anyone who has ever spent a weekend in Newport will tell you that it's a town that loves its booze. Alex is an early-riser, but he knows where to find a good time after the sun goes down. "I like going to Blackie's, just because that's where my Dad goes," says Alex. "But if you're looking for the nightlife action, it's probably not there. Jared loves going to Cassidy's. I live in Costa Mesa so I tend to go out up the hill and see live music. Avalon bar has really great live bands that come through there. I think that's probably the easiest and they have cheap drinks--like one- or two-dollar Pabst. There's a pool hall down the street here in Costa Mesa, on 19th street, called Games Plus. They have two-dollar Tecate Tuesdays, and they've got tons of pool tables, so that kind of makes for a nice social time."