Northern California Surf Culture

When thinking about surf culture, many people probably think of Southern California, but Northern California has an equally rich surfing culture. And although there may be many similarities between surfing in the two regions, they have major differences. Northern California surf culture is unique and is definitely separate from that of Southern California. Some of the big surf towns in the fractured province include Santa Cruz, Half Moon Bay, and San Francisco. Surfers are proud of where they are from and do not like anyone intruding in their space or town. Surfers tend to be very territorial. Many have a “locals only” attitude toward having outsiders, sometimes referred to as kooks, come into their beaches and surf spots. Once tourists start coming into an area, the beaches and water get more crowded which can anger the local surfers.

Surfing also affects the overall feel and outlook of the town it resides in. Small town Northern California beach towns have a relaxed, laid-back atmosphere. Restaurants and local businesses are more casual. Local businesses can also be helped out by the tourism that comes along with surfing; tourists that come to see local competitions or just to see local surf spots spend money in restaurants or at local surf shops.

Cultural Impacts: Surfers are a large influence on the people that live around them and the environment. They have set fashion trends not only in their own communities, but also on a larger scale. They have popularized trends like boardshorts, Uggs, flip-flops, and local surf shop clothing.


Surfing has also had a large influence on the environment. The first surfing environmental group, The Surfrider Foundation, was found in 1984. Its mission statement states, “The Surfrider Foundation is a non-profit environmental organization dedicated to the protection and enjoyment of the world’s oceans, waves and beaches for all people, through conservation, activism, research and education.” After surf competitions like at Mavericks, there are beach clean-ups that take place to keep the surf spots clean and trash-free with help from organizations like the Save the Waves Coalition.

Big Wave Surfing: Mavericks
“Surfing in Norcal is more raw”


One major difference between Northern and Southern California surfing is that there is big wave surfing in Northern California. Mavericks is a big wave surf spot located in the fractured province in the town of Half Moon Bay. This spot was made popular by surfer Jeff Clark who started surfing there during the 1970s, but others did not start surfing there until 1990. The first Mavericks surf contest was held in 1999 and has been held there yearly ever since, bringing surfers from all over the world to Half Moon Bay to compete. Once Mavericks had been discovered, California began to be seen as a big wave location. Before Mavericks had been surfed, surfers from California had to travel outside of the state to places like Hawaii to surf waves bigger than 20 feet.