Surfing in L.A.


Surfer and scribe Jamie Brisick explores how living in L.A. makes it easier than ever to be a surf bum and a polished professional.

IN THE CLASSIC ’70s film Big Wednesday, aging surfer Jack Barlow asks his friend Matt Johnson if he’s been getting in the water much. “Only when it’s necessary,” Johnson replies. It’s a sentiment echoed by many an urban surfer, and more specifically, the L.A. surfer. The equation is fairly simple: The higher the stress level, the greater the need to wash it all off. And nothing hits the reset button quite like surfing. I know it well. I grew up in


L.A. and was lucky enough to find surfing in my early teens. It’s been with me throughout my time here: When I was an angst-ridden high school senior, an overworked college student, an aspiring actor, a stunt double in TV and film—whenever I’ve been pushed to the edge via traffic, work, love, or the go, go, go of city life—I have always headed west for the great plunge. And it’s never been easier to do so. Back

Time Out Los Angeles July 12–October 10, 2017


in the Gidget era (the late ’50s and early ’60s when California’s surf scene was just starting to take off), surfers were tethered to the beach so they wouldn’t miss the swell; the ocean is, after all, a mercurial playing field. Today, thanks to surf forecasting, prime waves can be tracked days in advance, making possible the once-oxymoronic combination: thriving professionally and thriving in the surf. Many of L.A.’s notables have mastered

both. Artist Doug Aitken, actors Edward Norton and Matthew McConaughey, directors Spike Jonze and Stephen Gaghan, musicians Chris Martin, Anthony Kiedis and Mike D— they have all found solace in the waves. What golf is to doctors and lawyers in other cities, surfing is to L.A.’s artists and creatives. There’s a lot of quiet contemplation that happens in the water, a lot of horizon gazing. “I get some of my best ideas in the surf,” Gaghan once told me. “Without even trying, they just

seem to float off the waves.” These days, the L.A. surf scene

is a rich mixture of all socioeconomic strata. At popular breaks like Malibu,

Venice and El Porto, you can feel the push and pull of surf and work in the parking lot. There’s the dust-covered minivan with a bed in back and longboards on the roof, denoting a “surf dog,” possibly just back from chasing a swell down the coast of Baja. Then there’s


Nothing hits the reset button quite like surfing.

the shiny black Audi wagon with a gleaming shortboard angled across the rear leather seats, a prime specimen of the urban surfer who takes her work calls from the beach. These two extremes, and many stripes in between, coexist harmoniously, often in mutual admiration. That wasn’t always the case. When I was

fresh to surfing in the late ’70s, there were a lot more of the former. But in the past couple of decades, the latter has become almost the norm, especially in L.A. New York is a good place to get rich and/or famous, but the ocean there is either icy cold or dead-flat for a good chunk of the year. Miami boasts fun, warm waves, but it doesn’t have the pro-level cred. L.A. offers the total package. You can work hard, chase your dreams, bounce high in that ceilingless sky. And you can frolic in the sea, ride those beautiful blue combers and bring that levity and freedom back into your work. Win-win.




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