I grew up surfing on the East Coast. The birth of my surfing existence is on the beach up the street from Ocean Hut Surf Shop, and would be stuck up that beach until I got a drivers license junior year (NOTE: Sandy was this same year so not only would I not be able to get my driver license on my birthday, I also would not be able to access Lavallette beaches for months after). Once a legal NJ driver, I would being adventuring outside the Lavallette bubble to surf waves like Bayhead, Manasquan, and Jenks (the only wave I will admit to missing when in CA). While my surfing journey was heavily rooted in NJ, I was able to experience a handful of California waves in between trips out west throughout high school. Even though I rarely get to surf it now a days, Rincon point is a wave I know light the back (side) of my hand. I would put in hours at the point when out west for a family trip. When I came out to check out colleges out west I was introduced to Lowers. Maybe when the sand is right and the moons align, these waves can be half mimicked back home. But in my experience, I can count on two hands the amount of times this happens. Surfing on the East Coast and West Coast differ very heavily. And I would learn this after spending a mere Semester at school. Both have their positives and negatives. When I was greener to the West Coast, I would find very little to be missed about surfing in NJ. But perspective is everything, and in the ever-growing sport of surfing, things are changing very quickly. Let’s take the deep dive.
Surfing on the East Coast is much more of a waiting game. You simply cannot surf everyday much like other places. Now I know sometimes even the most wave rich coast can look dismal, and a soft top or log might be needed. But there are plenty of days I can remember between every season where there is LITERALLY no surf. “Lake Atlantic” is a term often coined in regards to how dismal the ocean can look. Now to double down on this, even when there are waves, it often can be in unfavorable conditions or less than ideal conditions. Winds are often way more prevalent on the East Coast, so no matter how early you wake up some days, it is still choppy. I can recall waiting for hours on hours just for a single hour window of favorable winds. This again brings it back to the waiting game. There are some spots that handle certain factors better, but wind tides and swell direction all play a major role in how the fickle beach breaks take shape.
After bitching about all that can be wrong about surfing at home, let’s talk about what’s right. For the most part, when it’s on it’s on. Nothing is quite as satisfying as rocking up to the beach to see perfect A-frame waves with not a soul in the water. With surfing’s growing popularity, this is much less common than it used to be. But plenty of days in the Fall and Spring I could see peaky chest to head high wedges with no one out at my local beach break. The crowd was me, my dad, and who ever else I wanted to invite. Plenty of times it was just my dad and I. Plenty of times it was just me. The solitude of a solo session is something very hard to replicate, and I would say a third of my surfs at home would be sans surfers. It could get a little spooky, but getting first pick of any wave puts that in the back of your head. My local beachie is still super reliable for being empty, but when it’s just not doing its thing I can enter the fray by driving 15 minutes north. My junior and senior year of high school was flooded with sessions in Bayhead and at Jenks, where you could find ledgey barrels a plenty. Anytime I’m home, I try to hone in on a session at Jenks.
Surfing on the West Coast is a lot less of a gamble. Wake up around sunrise and check the cams to cherry pick the best sandbar. Plenty of times I have been at the ocean and checking one spot while the cam for another is open on my phone. This is both a blessing and a curse, but for sure more of a curse. There are very few secrets left out here. Also, where I live can take almost any swell angle. Solid south swell? Spot X. Medium sized west swell? Spot Y. Combo swell and offshores? Spot Z. As far as wave quality, what the West Coast has going for it is the amount of different types of waves you can find within an hour driving on the freeway. Whether you are craving beach break barrels, rippable reef A-frames, or lined up points that offer up 20+ second rides, the options are there. You can truly think about the way you want to surf, and take a short drive to find a wave suitable for that. There is a ton of options, and on top of that before you even leave your house you can watch a camera to weigh out whether the drive is worth it.
With all good comes the bad, and this is referring back to the cameras. Where I live, there are actually more than 10 cameras within the handful of miles radius. There is a ridiculous amount of people out at just about every spot too. It is always more crowded when it is a little smaller, which it often is. A solid swell is needed to really trim the fat of novice surfers. The increasing crowds and inviting beaches just keep getting more and more densely populated. Since there are so many waves, you can escape the crowd if you get crafty enough. But plenty of spots that I used to surf with a light to moderate crowd are now ridiculously jam-packed. The crowds start before you even get in the water, too. If it’s on and passed 7AM, it’s too late. Parking spots can be scarce, and if it is street sweeping you might be walking quite a bit before you enter the ocean. When it get’s crowded, it starts bugging everyone. You see a ton more eggy folks when it’s crowded, and that really can drag the environment way down. Especially if the one being chirped is you or your buddy.
Both coasts lay in a special place in my heart. I feel as though if I spend too much time in one, I really start to miss the other. Right about now, I would love some less crowded waves. But I know when I am home, and it is flat, I’d love even just a waist high wave to jib around on. Since I live out in CA, I am thankfully there is always a rideable wave and often can be pretty fun. But scoring a swell back home tastes just as if not more sweet.