One of the main agriculture producers in California, Ventura County is about as working-class as surf towns get. In lineups from Little Rincon to Point Mugu, you’ll find a lot of black wetsuits, and very few stickers on noses. It’s a blue-collar community sandwiched between two of the most ostentatious surf zones in the world, and the locals take pride in that. The sleepy stretch of coast would be easily overlooked if it weren’t for the fact that some of California’s most electric surfers have come from there. From Timmy Curran, to Dane Reynolds, to Nick Rozsa, to Matt McCabe, Ventura County has been farming almost as much surf talent as they have strawberries. I headed up to Ventura recently to meet up with Nick Rozsa and to get a better feel for one of California’s most enigmatic surf locales.
It was a painful first light on a July morning as we hopped across loose boulders lining the beach of a normally inaccessible right-hander. I was with with photographer Morgan Maassen, Nick Rozsa, Dane Reynolds, and a few of their friends. It's the kind of posse that fetches local stink eyes, and inspires indignant statements made under breath. Dane and Nick understand their occupational hazards, and know that smiles and waves are their best defense. The spot we were checking was the star of Dane's last Marine Layer production (emma wood is killing me/sitting off the horn), and if you want to know how good it can get, set aside a few minutes to watch and salivate. This morning was different though. It was much, much worse. The inconsistent south swell teased us with the occasional wedge followed by a 20-minute lull. But there was hope around the corner at a more exposed beach, so we made our way with moderate expectation.
On the other side we found predominant lefts with a healthy mix of sandy barrels and bending launch pads--catering to the unique skillset of my present company. Nick and Dane drifted through the scattered pack, mostly picking off the mid-range waves and leaving the best sets to those hell-bent on jockeying for position at the main peak. But for their intentions, the mid-sized ramps were perfect. Dane came out of small, glassy barrels to attempt massive, inverted, twisting rotations. Rozsa pulled a dozen signature backside, fin-blast reverses, and stomped a few no-grab rotations as well. It never occurred to me before, but these two surfers have a lot in common. They both walk a fine line between raw, Cro-Magnon aggression and fluid, musical style. It takes one of those components to even try to launch huge airs in draining sections, but it takes another entirely to keep them looking smooth.
We had two sessions over the course of about 6 hours, punctuated by a round of mediocre breakfast burritos that had been bathed in old, viscous Tapatio sauce. After our second session, we followed Nick and filmer Chris Papaleo back to Nick's abode to find out how to best spend our day in Ventura, and to bother his infant son during naptime.
Ventura County is home to some of California's best beachbreaks and a handful of world-class points are only a short drive away when the right swell angle is in the water. Unfortunately, this is only a winter phenomenon. Summertime in the area can feel like a surfer's purgatory, but that's not to say that it's impossible to surf if you're determined.
"My ideal spot to go to in Ventura in the summer is probably Point Mugu, if I can get on, which isn't always an option," says Nick. "Emma Wood gets fun, as well as all the little spots down south like County Line, Zuma, and Leo Carillo. But summertime can be really hard around here because most of our best winter spots don't have very good exposure to south swells. You can definitely get lucky though." If you have the time to drive north, you can get out from under the shadow of the Channel Islands and into some pristine waves at Jalama, which is much more receptive to south west and combo swells.
Ventura isn't necessarily known for its culinary excellence (as we discovered earlier), but that hardly matters after a solid session. "Toppers Pizza is pretty epic," says Nick. "That's right down the street and we go there from time to time. It's a pretty well-known pizza place. I think everywhere has a Topper's. We've got a Mexican food place right here called Yolanda's. It's a good place to go to dinner and to take the family out. Then there's a sushi joint right next to that called Anaba Sushi. That place is always good if you're craving sushi, but it's expensive."
"A lot of the cooks around here are Mexican, so I feel like it's just a way higher quality of Mexican food around here," says Chris. "Even the Taco Bells are better. I swear to God, the Taco Bell in Hueneme is world-class. If you go there, it will be the best Taco Bell you have in your entire life."
Although Ventura has its share of dive bars, you aren't likely to have the night of your life out on the town, unless your ideal night consists of pitchers of Budweiser and jukeboxes with the entire Creedence Clearwater Revival catalogue--which is totally awesome. “There’s a sports bar called Rookees that I’ve been to a couple times and it’s fun to go with a few friends and watch a game or something,” says Nick. “There’s also a spot called Aloha, right by the Ventura Pier, where where you can grab a few beers after a long day of surfing. Honestly, Ventura is pretty mellow. It’s not the kind of place you wanna go out solo and find chicks or something, but it can be fun to cruise out with some of your friends. It’s good though. There are less distractions for surfers up here. You get to bed early, and as a surfer it lets you focus on the things that matter more. I don’t really go out anymore, but if you're coming through here and you want to go out, I would just bypass Ventura and go straight to Santa Barbara."
Video highlights from Nick’s weekend in Ventura: