About 15 minutes south of San Francisco lies Linda Mar, a curious surf spot in the hamlet of Pacifica, equal parts maddening, hilarious, terrifying, embarrassing, beautiful, necessary and peaceful. Sometimes all on the same day. It's one of the only two beginner-friendly waves anywhere near the Bay Area, not including Santa Cruz, and one of the few sheltered spots offering a playful refuge in the winter when west swells roar into Ocean Beach. It also boasts two very fine longboard peaks, again, rarities in this part of California.
That last part drew the attention of Julie Cox, a one-time competitive longboarder, who'd relocated to San Francisco after growing up surfing Malibu, before attending college at UC Santa Cruz, then bouncing back to Southern California, then finally being drawn back north by the area’s natural beauty in recent years.
Cox loved the soft lefts along the southern section of Linda Mar, and would schlep her massive log from her apartment in SF's bustling Mission District to her car, then drive down Highway One to Pacifica, only to do it all over again on the way home, often shivering and freezing in a soaked wetsuit.
Finally, she had enough of the hassle and wondered if she could do something about it. She envisioned a surf club near Linda Mar where surfers could stash boards, come in from the surf and warm up with a hot shower, commune with fellow wave riders, maybe do a little board shopping. And with that, in October 2016, Traveler Surf and Swim Club was born.
"I got so tired of dragging my board from San Francisco to Linda Mar all the time and I figured that if I'm dealing with this, surely there are other people who would enjoy a hot shower and a place to keep a board," Cox told me on a recent sun-dappled afternoon in Traveler's charming patio. "This place came from my own wants and needs, really."
The front of Traveler is a rootsy, hipster-chic surf shop, complete with beautiful handmade logs, quality clothes, Pendleton blankets, jewelry, and a kickass surf library with comfy couches. Coffee and tea are available and it is excellent. The back of the space, though, is where the magic lies.
Members get a code to a gate that swings open to reveal a gorgeously manicured, open-air sanctuary. There are board lockers, heated benches, and beautiful outdoor showers. When I was there, a charming wooden sauna had been wheeled in on a trial basis.
I quickly fell in love with the idea of a bitterly cold Linda Mar session on a stormy, south-wind day, then a frozen-footed stroll through the gates at Traveler, followed by a hot shower and a mug of fair trade, while leafing through a magazine on a heated bench.
Why aren't there more of these places? It's the sort of hangout you didn't even realize you were missing until you get a little taste for yourself, then it seems like the most obvious thing in the whole world and you wondered how you lived without it.
"It's so cold in Northern California, most surfers seem to get in their cars and just drive home after a surf," Cox said. "I missed the community of hanging at the beach. I wanted to create an inviting, cool space where people could transition from the ocean to land."
Obviously, the housing market is absurd in San Francisco, and surfers can't always choose where they get to live, sometimes stuck with a big, not-surfboard-friendly apartment building. The ability to leave surf stuff at a favored beach is a real draw for surfers in the area.
Memberships run around $75/month, a little more if you keep your board there. Day passes are available too (the author received no special treatment for this piece, btw). Traveler hosts movie nights, talks, and all kinds of cool surfy stuff. Plus, Cox is a joy to talk surf with.
If you're in Pacifica, cruise by and say hi. If you're not, but still like the idea of a charming surf club at your beach, well, stay tuned to see what’s coming next for Traveler.