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California's Lost Coast
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Surfing the Perfect Break on California's Lost Coast
Somewhere north of San Francisco, on the longest stretch of wilderness beach in the lower 48, there is a near-mythical surf break—a secret in a sport of secrets.
To say any more could be treason.
Text by Dan Duane  

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Photo Gallery  |  Adventure Guide: Lost Coast, California

Adventure Travel in California

It's hard to explain, to a nonsurfer, what makes a given wave special, at least when you're not talking about bone-crushing monsters the size of office buildings. Suffice it to say that at Ghost Point it has to do with a certain symmetry and speed, the quality of flight it offers. And when I saw the first wave surge out of the deep sea beyond the continental shelf, catch the underwater rock reef, wall up, and begin to peel, I saw everything I'd ever learned to want from water. The lone surfer made the drop beautifully—he clearly knew the place well—and for a while I just watched, picking up his tricks and learning the subtle currents that haunt any break.

And then it was my turn. I saw the wave I wanted, a long, clean green wall rolling in from the open sea. Strong winds were blowing somewhere far offshore, beating at the ocean surface, and they put a kind of warbling bump through an otherwise smooth wave. As I hopped to my feet, I nearly lost my balance. The wave broke with a sudden and violent intensity—much more than I'd expected—and sent me hurtling down toward the trough. My legs compressed deeply as I tried to channel my speed back up to the gathering face. Once there, I put my board right into "trim," a smooth line in the wave's sweet spot where you harness all its momentum without doing anything fancy. That's when I finally understood what Ghost Point was all about—green water below, craggy mountains above, and a slingshot of a ride in your own private wilderness.

For the next few hours the other surfer—the caretaker of the cabin and the owner of the plane—and I took turns barreling down waves, hooting each other into one zipping good ride after another. When my last one spent itself on the sand, I waved goodbye in the fading light of dusk's last moments and made my way to the campsite. A bonfire was already glowing near the tent, stars scattered across the sky, and there wasn't a single electric light for miles. At that moment I decided that to my friends, and to all those who guard its identity, Ghost Point is much more than a surf spot they might visit again some day. As a secret to which they've long been privy and as the site of treasured memories, Ghost Point has become a place surfers love to imagine even more than they love to visit. In this hallowed setting, somewhere between dream and reality, there will always be beauty, solitude, and screaming-fast right-hand barrels.
"Hey, that's not a shark fin, is it?" asked
my buddy Jeff, standing outside our tent the next morning. I quickly floundered out of my sleeping bag and stood bare-legged in the cold breeze. I could scarcely believe my eyes.

A broad, flat, vaguely triangular fin stuck out of the calm water about 15 yards (14 meters) off the beach, slowly drifting north.

"That's a shark," I said.


"Yeah, that's a shark." But a moment later, doubt flickered in my mind and I realized I was looking at a sea lion flipper, held upright to warm in the sun while the rest of the animal floated submerged. Another sea lion soon surfaced alongside, and then I saw a little gray whale, Alaska-bound for the summer, blowing mist just beyond the break.

Most of that morning drifted by in a futile attempt to surf-cast for perch, using frozen calamari that we bought back at the bait shack, and the afternoon was spent in the water. The other surfer had flown out the night before, so alone Jeff and I took turns picking off small, fast waves with playful bowl sections that ran right across an exposed rock. When the tide bottomed out altogether, whole stretches of reef came into the open air. Little tide pools emerged, each filled with dozens of purple anemones, their tender, sticky tentacles awaiting some passing protein.

Leaving the surfboards on the beach, we wandered among the pools and kelp-covered boulders, looking for abalone or anything else we might eat. We cracked open a few sea urchins for their roe and collected as many blue mussels as we could carry, wrenching them from their rocky perches and filling my neoprene hood. Back on the beach we gathered dead grass into a blazing fire and watched the red sun set over the blue water. Stuffing garlic and parsley into the bottom of our pot, I steamed those mussels until they popped. As night fell over the darkened mountains and cold sea, we gorged on a miraculous freshness, the flavor you just never get in a restaurant.

By our third afternoon, the swell had died and Ghost Point was flat, so we packed up our tents and sleeping bags and fishing poles and headed back out. During the long, quiet march, I watched seals watching us from offshore; I saw an osprey hunting the shallows for fish; and I decided that whatever you think about the surfer obsession with secrecy, whether it sounds like selfishness, silliness, or soulfulness, the end result isn't really such a bad thing. Anyone who wants to find Ghost Point won't have much trouble—I told you that it's somewhere along the Lost Coast, and the truth is, the break is known to virtually every surfer with a clue in Northern California. But maybe there's something great about the feeling that the world is still full of mysteries; ones you'll have to sort out for yourself. And maybe there's something great about places, real or imagined, where discoveries will always be waiting to be made. Because at some level, that's what it's all about.

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Photo Gallery  |  Adventure Guide: Lost Coast, California

Adventure Travel in California

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Adventure's September 2006 issue features 31 amazing adventure towns; chaos at the top of Mount Everest; an inside look at surfing California's Lost Coast; 11 fall weekend getaways near you; the best high-tech footwear, world class adventure travel; hiking the Alps, and more!

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