These days it’s pretty tough to get off the beaten path in coastal Southern California. Sure you can always head east to find solitude in the desert heat, but our passion is surfing, and finding waves and west coast beach bliss is our game. Fortunately, by heading a little further north up HWY 101, past the rolling hills of Santa Barbara and just around Point Conception, there lies a raw and rugged Californian gem that we consider the gateway to the Central Californian coast.
It’s like going back in time, to a place that represents the west coast before it’s massive population and development boom, a place where, when you are in the ocean and look back towards land you see no buildings, no freeways, just the natural foothills of the coastal bluff. It’s a refreshing change to our local Orange County beaches, no more jostling for parking spots, paying parking meters, and rubbing elbows with hordes of daily beachgoers. This is a place that is isolated and necessitates booking 6 months ahead, which is exactly how we scored the primo campsite right in front of the surf zone.
Loading up our old battle wagon, a 2000 Subaru pushing 220k adventurous miles, with all our equipment – surfboards, boogie boards, skimboards, skateboards, and camping gear – for a family of four plus two mini Australian Shepherds is a daunting task, but one that we do with pleasure. We know we’re headed to sleep in the sand with the hum of the Pacific Ocean at our doorstep.
Admittedly, there is just one catch to this wonderful place – the wind that rips through the campground is something fierce! I’m talking about the type of winds that will make you look silly if you don’t have your tent’s guylines positioned and tensioned properly. In fact, due to the unpredictability of the wind, you can’t help but notice more motorhomes and trailers are occupying the beachfront spots as opposed to tent-campers. Nonetheless, not one to back down from a challenge, I built our beachfront oasis with a little extra care and attention to the integrity of our guylines, which thankfully held up brilliantly over the next 5 days.
There’s nothing quite like having your camp kitchen set up with an ocean view. The convenience of having a shelter that fits over the large camp tables and benches is priceless. Every meal was cooked overlooking the surf break in front of the camp, and when the wind whipped up, as it did most afternoons, we’d just zip up the Sugarloaf’s mesh canopy which provided the ample shelter from the wind and blowing sand.
Being surfers our daily routine is, for lack of a better word, routine. Wake up, brew a fresh cup of coffee, and take the dogs on a beach walk as we check the surf. With three distinct surf breaks available, one right in front of the camp and two more a short walk to the north and south, the daily dog walk would determine where we would surf that morning. The surf is generally uncrowded, and with the water in the low fifties, a wetsuit is mandatory. Despite the cold, our eight and nine-year-old boys are like fish enjoying surfing, skimboarding and playing around in the shore break.
The surf, in fact, is the primary reason we go through all the craziness involved in setting up a comfortable family beach camp. Actually, it’s 100% about surfing, and it’s a family affair! We get to surf uncrowded waves in front of our newly constructed beach house. Life becomes simple, we are happily governed by the wind, tides, and waves, and when the conditions are prime, we’re free to ride the waves.
Over the course of the next five days we experienced the full spectrum of weather conditions, including a touch of rain while breaking down camp. From foggy mornings to windy afternoons to dead calm nights, we enjoyed every minute of of our beachside adventure. Every evening brought the promise of a uniquely beautiful sunset and everyday unique set of ocean conditions for us to play in.
Once the sun disappeared beneath the Pacific Ocean the temperature would drop rapidly and we’d light up the fire pit for our nightly sweet tooth ritual. As you’d expect, with eight and nine-year-old boys, it was s’mores five nights a week. After a long day in the surf it was lights out by 8pm for the boys, giving mom and dad some much welcomed alone time.
On the final morning of the trip, my head full of the dreadful thought of having to break down camp, impossibly fit everything back into the Subaru, drive four hours home, and clean all the sand out of our gear, we were greeted with a goodbye rainbow. I took it as a good omen, of family time well spent, of waves well surfed, and as a reminder that I need to book another camping trip as soon as we pull into the garage.
Chad LaBass is a born-and-raised surfer hailing from Newport Beach, California. When he’s not capturing epic shots of his boys surfing, skating, or snowboarding, he is catching dawn patrol waves himself alongside his wife, Carrie.