The Santa Cruz World Surfing Reserve is located on the northern side of Monterey Bay along California’s Central Coast within the protected coastal waters of the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary. The Reserve stretches approximately 7 miles from Natural Bridges State Park on the west end of the City of Santa Cruz eastward along the city and county coast to the Opal Cliffs, just east of Pleasure Point. At least 23 consistent surf breaks are sited along this coast, including the world-class breaks of Steamer Lane and Pleasure Point.
The breaks are rated from “expert” to “beginner” and are used by surfers throughout the year. Surfing contests from pros to clubs to schools are frequent and popular. Beach and surf access is generally good along this coast and most of the beach areas in the Reserve are overseen by the California State Parks, the City of Santa Cruz, or Santa Cruz County.
Why Santa Cruz?
Santa Cruz has earned the sheltered status of a World Surfing Reserve because of its diverse mix of surf breaks, its pervasive and deep-rooted surf culture, and its thriving but fragile coldwater habitat.
Most surfers who’ve spent any time in Santa Cruz agree that the quality, consistency and aesthetic appeal of its waves make it the best all-around surf town in the continental United States. The reserve’s seven miles of serrated coast features more than a dozen quality spots—from one of the West Coast’s best beginner breaks to a heaving deepwater peak where big-wave legends train. The wide array of points, reefs and beachbreaks suck in Pacific swells from all directions, and the prevailing winds blow favorably year-round.
Santa Cruz’s surf roots date back to 1885, when three Hawaiian princes rode hand-hewn redwood planks in waves breaking near the San Lorenzo Rivermouth—the first documented surf session on the American mainland. A small but devoted core of local surfers kept the sport alive through the first half of the 20th Century, but it wasn’t until surf fever swept from coast to coast in the 1960s that surfing became forever woven into the very fabric of the community. In the decades since, innovative Santa Cruz surfers and manufacturers—from wetsuit designers to surfboard shapers—have influenced wave riders worldwide.
Today, Santa Cruz is home to thousands of surfers, many of whom are devoted to protecting the coast from the ongoing threats of coastal developers and inland polluters. The success of these coastal stewards is evident to anyone who ventures near the coast here on a day when the sun is out, the wind is right, and a solid swell is running. From Natural Bridges to Capitola, the surf zone buzzes with hundreds of shortboarders and longboarders, groms and geezers, heroes and kooks—all vying for sets in the cool, green, kelp-rich sea.
Attributes of a World Surfing Reserve
At least 23 consistent surf breaks are sited along this coast, including the world-class breaks of Steamer Lane and Pleasure Point. Most are reef or beach breaks with a few outstanding point breaks, and almost all naturally break right within this zone. Winter is always the best time for surfing consistent waves, and the breaks are rated from “expert” to “beginner,” so surfers of all ages and levels can find a suitable wave in the area.
CLEAN COWELLS INITIATIVE
A cherished Santa Cruz beach and premiere longboard break, Cowells, faces longstanding water quality issues at the heart of the World Surfing Reserve
Our commitment to address the issue has led to the formation of the Cowells Working Group in partnership with the City of Santa Cruz. Major improvements have been made and Cowells has since been removed from the ‘Beach Bummer’ list altogether after years of hard work, trial and error, and dedicated scientific research.
Santa Cruz WSR News
For the third consecutive year, Cowell Beach is not included on Heal the Bay’s “Beach Bummer” list.
On Sunday, Save The Waves hosted a beach cleanup in the Santa Cruz World Surfing Reserve with Kona Brewing for their #CatchACleanWave tour.
We’re proud to present “The Plastic Wave” – a seven-foot wave sculpture created by Ethan Estess out of 1,000 plastic phone cases made with our partners at Pela Case.
“This is such great news,” said Mayor Donna Meyers. “The changes in bacteria data measurements which have kept Cowell Beach off of the ‘Beach Bummer’ list over two years now demonstrate the positive power of government working with a focused group of community organizations.”