There’s a lot of convenience in having a local beach near you. Effortlessly sliding into the water, surfing waves that you know and understand, and being home sleeping in your own bed has its own appeal. Even though there were excellent waves everywhere around Los Angeles, I wanted more from a surf session than just a perfect wave, I was looking for a perfect adventure. I only had a few days, so I couldn’t go too far. I had to pick between heading south to Baja, or North to Big Sur. It was adventure I was after, so I headed north. Big Sur’s cold water, craggy coastline, and ancient forests have always been a go-to spot for me when getting off the grid is part of the plan
Andrew Molera State Park
Photo: We stood at the overlook to Sand Dollar beach for the better part of an hour watching the disorderly waves. There wasn’t a channel, save for a circuitous route around a small island which I’d used before, but once you were out, the waves were mostly closing out and unrideable. I’d brought along two Surftech SUP boards, one for riding waves, and another for cruising the coastline, but none of us were interested in taking them out in this chaos. I knew of a river in Andrew Molera State Park that would be perfect for an afternoon paddle, so we began to hike the mile or so to where the trail meets the water. Along the way we came across this tunnel in the foliage. The leaves had begun to change their colors, and the light was filtering through the treetops casting a soft glow on everything below. This scene in and of itself would have been worth the hike.
Photo: Stand-up paddle boards were created for the ocean, but it didn’t take long for people to realize that they are also the perfect means of exploring waterways that are otherwise inaccessible. The birds filled the marshland with their calls, and along the river’s edge we caught a glimpse of a bobcat, too fleeting to catch on camera. Sometimes, we would just let the boards drift, and would float right up to the birds as they went about their business. At the end of the river, we stepped off of the boards and into the sand, in front of us a right hand point break was reeling off and there was only one other person in the water.
Sand Dollar Beach
Photo: A few friends had decided to join me for the adventure, and we were meant to meet at Sand Dollar Beach. From there we would drive to the campsite I’d picked out on Google Earth. When Nick and Greg didn’t show up that first day, I assumed that something had come up and I was going to be spending the next few days on a solo mission. I’m comfortable with traveling alone, but was looking forward to spending some time in this place with friends. I found the campsite after the sun had set, and went to sleep, entirely unaware of my surroundings save for the little I could see at the edge of the light coming from my headlamp. The next morning I was woken up by Nick sticking his head into the back of my truck where I was sleeping. He had interpreted my directions to the campsite correctly even though I was off by over 10 miles and gave him the wrong road. I stepped out of the back of my truck and in front of me was one of the best ocean views I’ve ever seen.
Photo: From our campsite high above the rugged Big Sur coastline, we could see the ocean crashing against the cliffs that make up most of the shoreline, but we could also see that Sand Dollar Beach was organizing the waves, and channelling them to the beach in perfect form. Even from our distant view we could see that there was a right hand peak forming with every wave. Sand dollar is no secret, so we knew that we’d have to skip breakfast if we wanted this spot to ourselves. We whipped up some coffee and mind surfed the waves for a few minutes, but all of us were antsy to get in the water, so we wasted no time in downing the brew and starting the descent to the beach.
Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park
Photo: We’d surfed for hours in water that was cold enough to give us a brain freeze. We needed a break and some time to warm up. Since the swell was still building, we took that afternoon “off” to rest up for the bigger waves that were on their way. It was hard to leave the beach but we decided to explore some of the other features of the Big Sur coastline. I’d always wanted to see the Redwood forests, but on my other visits had focussed all of my attention on the ocean. We stopped off at Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park and turned our backs on the coast, walking inland toward a narrow valley. Almost as soon as you step into the redwood forest, it’s like you’ve entered a different historical period. The trees here are thousands of years old, and hundreds of feet tall. Standing among these giant trees forces me to stop and take account of where I am; it pushes all of the other thoughts out of my mind. I call this state a forced meditation, where everything in the mind dissolves away. What’s left is a clear appreciation for where you are.
Photo: Across the street from Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park is McWay Falls. It must be one of the most photographed locations in California, and although I always try to find something unique to photograph, every time I’m in Big Sur I have to stop and take photos of the waterfall. The view is of a nearly inaccessible beach, so you are rarely going to see so much as a human footprint spoiling the sand. Looking down on this cove, it feels like looking at what our coastline would be like if humans had not yet arrived.
Photo: We surfed until our arms were noodles and our skin was blue from the cold, and then we kept surfing. We were alone, and as any surfer knows, surfing alone can make even moderate conditions epic. I finally got out of the water to try and catch a few images of Nick and Greg while the sun was setting. I was nearly too late, and had to sprint full speed down the beach to get an angle that showed them against the sky. The beach was rocky and painful to my cold feet, but every time I stopped from the pain, I saw the sun dipping lower in the sky and would resume my sprint. The clouds above my friends lit up, and the wind had whipped them into the shape of a flame. I finally reached a good spot to shoot from, and had only a few moments to capture an image. It was up to the ocean now, and I waited for someone to catch a wave. Time did not stand still, it was racing toward darkness, but in the last moments of light, a small wave came through and a flock of pelican’s flew over the crest of the waves. This was our last night in Big Sur, and it will be on my mind until I return. I can’t complain though, as from here I was driving back to LA, and boarding a flight to Hawaii. After all this cold water, I was ready to surf in shorts.