Finding shelter under the Orange Curtain
By Matt Patterson
Where: Southern California is typically defined by three counties; Los Angeles (L.A.), Orange County (O.C.), and San Diego (S.D.). Orange County is sandwiched between Los Angeles and San Diego and completely enveloped behind what the locals call the "Orange Curtain."
What: The O.C. is now world-renowned for its television shows—The O.C., Laguna Beach, and Newport Harbor—though they've done nothing (thankfully) to spotlight the true backbone of Southern California culture over the last twenty-plus years: the action-sports world.
Most of the big brands' figurative and collective backyard is Orange County. More specifically, Newport Beach and its neighboring city to the northeast, Costa Mesa, have been the zip code of residence during the salad years for all the big brands including Quiksilver, Billabong, Volcom, RVCA, and Hurley.
When: During the summer the Southern California coastline gets shelled with south swells. The same swells that you've seen light Trestles up like a Christmas tree since you began reading surf magazines. They can stretch from early March all the way through October. The weather during spring and summer rarely deviates from ultra-comfortable with the exception of "June Gloom," a strange SoCal phenomenon that usually begins in late May and runs right until the Fourth of July. June Gloom is a foggy, overcast layer that you wake up to every morning wondering when summer will start. But the gloom usually burns off by noon and those south swells are alive right underneath it all.
Winter is another story altogether. During winter the swells come from the north and west, and Orange County turns green with envy as its sister city to the south does its best impression of the North Shore. That's right—winter sucks in the O.C. while San Diego turns on.
Why: Because you'll get a glimpse into the epicenter of surf culture while getting some waves as well. The majority of Orange County is comprised of beachbreaks, though there are exceptions. For instance, the Newport Beach coastline is broken up with jetties every four blocks that break the long south lines into rippable peaks. The Huntington Beach coastline is as straight as a board, but it picks up every ripple in the ocean and features the H.B. Pier—one of surfing's most iconic landmarks. And, of course, the O.C. coastline is home to Trestles, arguably the best wave in North America.
Teddy “Shreddy” Navarro pulls into the O.C./L.A. border. Photo: Sardelis
How: Traveling to Orange County is as easy as any spot on the globe. A great point of entry is John Wayne Airport. That's right, Orange County didn't follow suit with cities that named their airports after politicians. In the O.C. it's all about the Duke.
Places To Stay: For accommodations, there are countless cheap hotels online. Or, if you want to drop some cash, treat yourself to a stay at the Ritz located on the cliff overlooking Salt Creek. There's a good reason why the Ritz chose Creek as its location. The surf is protected by kelp beds outside, and the point is surrounded by thumping beachbreaks. Creek is a treat for the rich and famous, and although it may break the bank, it might be worth it, too.
Places To Eat: Orange County is a big place with every cuisine imaginable, but here's a few hints. In San Clemente try Pedro's Tacos, Sonny's Pizza, Captain Mauri's (formerly Captain Culvers). In Newport try (TO COME). In Huntington check out the Sugar Shack (say hi to Timmy Turner, his family owns it), Wahoo's (the original location in Costa Mesa), more TK.
Babes And Dudes: It goes without saying that there are more bronzed and beautiful bodies in the O.C. than your imagination can handle. In the summer, the beaches are blanketed with swimsuit-clad hotness and you might find yourself straining a neck muscle just making your way to the surf. As far as nightlife, it goes off. You can do the whole bar-scene thing, or if you're there in the summer, there will be some sort of surf-industry-related party nearly every weekend where you can fall in love fifteen times a night. Don't expect to just roll up and score, though, these girls have had every line in the book spewed at them by everyone from the pros to shop rats.
Crowd Factor: The marquee breaks are predictably packed, and with tons of pros per square mile, it can be tough to get waves. But there's also miles and miles of open beachbreak, with some sandbars turning on and off quickly, so if you're on it, you can score some fun surf before it gets swarmed. It's not all bad, though, having a ton of pros around. Show up when a big contest is on, like the two ASP comps at Lowers or the U.S. Open, and you'll get to see an incredible amount of pros ripping the piss out of everything in sight. It's inspiring and humbling at the same time. One note: Don't hassle for waves, instead show the crowd that you can surf within the first few minutes of getting wet. If you sit too long you'll be pegged as a barn, and good luck after that.
Stuff To Bring: A normal 3/2 fullsuit will get most locals through the winter, although a 4/3 can be nice in December and January. Around May it turns to short-sleeve fullsuit temp, and by the time June Gloom is done you should be in trunks or a spring for cold mornings. You won't need anything bigger than a mini-gun unless you want to try paddling at the peak when the Wedge is cracking. Just like the rest of SoCal, funboards, fish, and shortboards are all you need.
Helpful Web Sites: For a taste of what's really going in the O.C. surf scene, check out shorescrew.com. Or try just about every company's Web site in the whole industry, and of course, transworldsurf.com.