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Surfing in San Diego

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Head to a San Diego beach on any given day and chances are you'll see a group of surfers in the water, patiently waiting to ride a memorable break. Spectators as well as enthusiasts agree that catching a perfect wave is an unforgettable experience.

Surfing may have originated in Hawaii, but modern surfing culture is inextricably linked to the Southern California lifestyle. From the Malibu setting of Gidget to the surf-city sounds of Jan and Dean and the Beach Boys, and TV's Laguna Beach and The OC, the entertainment industry brought a California version of surfing to the landlocked, and in the process created an enduring mystique.

San Diego surfing in particular is unique. Underwater kelp beds help keep waves intact, preventing the choppiness that surfers bemoan. Santa Ana winds that begin to arrive in fall and throughout early winter bring coveted offshore winds that contribute to morning and evening "glass" (the stillness of the water that encourages smooth waves).

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Best Time to Go

In San Diego the biggest swells usually occur in winter, although good-size waves can form year-round. Generally, swells come from a northerly direction in winter and from the south in summer. Certain surf spots are better on different swells. In winter, try beaches like Swami's or Black's Beach. Summer spots are La Jolla's Windansea and nearby Tourmaline Surfing Park.

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Types of Breaks

Beach break: Waves that break over sandbars and the seafloor and are usually tamer and consistently long, thus typically the best type for beginners, with the exception of Black's Beach, which is legendary for its uniquely large beach breaks. La Jolla Shores, Mission Beach, and Pacific Beach are destinations for gentler, more forgiving waves.

Point break: Created as waves hit a point jutting into the ocean. Surfers then peel down the swell it creates. With the right conditions, this can create very consistent waves. Swami's has an excellent point break.

Reef break: Waves break as they hit reef. It can create great (but dangerous) surf. There's a good chance of getting smashed and scraped over extremely sharp coral or rocks. Many of San Diego's best breaks occur thanks to underwater reefs, as at San Elijo, La Jolla Cove, and Windansea.

San Diego Surf Finder

Get a closer view of surfers doing their thing from any municipal pier, such as at Oceanside, Pacific, and Mission beaches. The high bluffs of Black's Beach are also excellent points to watch surfers.

Swami's: Famous for its point break and beautiful waters.

Black's Beach: This is where to go for beach breaks. Serious surfers carry their boards and take a hike to reach the beach.

Windansea Beach: A dual beach for surf and romance. Known for its reef breaks.

Tourmaline Surfing Park: Windsurfers and surfers share Tourmaline's smooth waves.

La Jolla Shores: First-timers head here for more modest waves.

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Surf Slang

Barrel: The area created when a wave breaks onto itself in a curl.

Close out: When a wave breaks all at once, rather than breaking steadily in one direction.

Cutback: The most basic turn in surfing; executed to maintain position close to the barrel.

Dropping in: A severe breach of etiquette wherein a second surfer joins the wave later and cuts off the original rider.

Goofy foot: Having a right-foot-forward stance on the surfboard. The opposite is known as natural.

Grom: An affectionate term for those sun-bleached kids with tiny surfboards.

Hollow: Not all barrels create hollows, which are barrels big enough to create a tube that a surfer can ride within—also called the green room.

Lineup: A group of surfers waiting beyond the breakers for waves to come in.

Turtle roll: A maneuver in which the surfer rolls over on the surfboard, going underwater and holding the board upside down.

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