The Call of the Wild: How to find a new surf spot

Posted on July 24, 2013

We have teamed up with our friends at The Inertia to bring you the "Call of the Wild"- a monthly series of editorial features that will cover every aspect of heeding the call.  This month the subject is finding your own surf spots.  Because we all know an uninhabited break is a rare find but well worth the effort...

A little while ago, I wrote a couple of sentences that made me start thinking about something: “Surfing is leaving. Surfing is looking. Surfing is finding. Now that I’m done quoting myself – which feels like an awfully arrogant thing to do, here’s what I started thinking about.

I can barely remember the last time I found a new surf spot, but a big part of surfing for me is finding an empty wave somewhere. One of my friends always says he’d rather surf a shit wave with no one on it than a great wave with everyone on it. And although I sort of disagree with that, I know where he’s coming from. Right now, I live in Canada. On the West Coast, right down south, to be exact. And while it’s getting pretty crowded, there are still places to find, still places to explore. Much of the world doesn’t have a lot of that anymore, which is something I find sad. There’s no fun in that. So here, before it’s too late: a few ways to find a new surf spot. And you know what? It still counts if it’s shit. It’s the searching that counts.

1. Google Earth. Yes, I know. Everyone knows about this. But in all seriousness, if you know even the slightest bit about topography/bathymetry and how a wave breaks, you’ll probably be able to find something. And one of the most helpful things about this satellite-assisted search is that you’ll be able to tell (at least a little bit) what direction your new spot will work on.

2. Look both ways. The last time I “found” a new wave, I was surfing one that was well known. In fact, I had to crane my head around a bunch of heads to see it. It was right there, just two hundred yards away, breaking off a rock and funneling into a little bay around the corner. Of course, it was breaking into ankle deep water and, as it turns out, only worked on that exact swell direction, period, swell height, tide, wind speed, lunar cycle, and Saturn’s relation to Pluto, but you never know. It was right there, and no one was on it except me.

3. Settle for it. Sometimes you’ll drive by something a thousand times on your way to something you know is better. But sometimes, just go look. You know that wave you think might work when it’s just a little more west? Next time it’s a little more west, go sit there for a few hours and see what happens. Sure, you’ll miss a sure thing at the popular spot, but that will happen again. And if you score, you don’t have to tell anyone about it (except me).

4. Listen to rumors. There’s always a rumor of a wave somewhere. Most of the time, they’re highly exaggerated and wildly speculative, because surfers are worse than fishermen when it comes to exaggeration and speculation, but there’s the off-chance there’s something to what they’re saying. I call these “Grape-vine Waves.” Go find one.

5. Just go and LOOK. No one walks anymore. For those of you who have surfed Trestles (which is probably a LOT of you), I surfed there for the first time a few years ago. When we were deciding where to go, one of my friends was leery about going there because it was a “crazy long walk.” I thought that a “crazy long walk” meant an hour or more through rough terrain. Turns out it meant “a sunny stroll on a paved, beautiful trail.”  Suck it up. Go get your feet dirty. Wade through rivers, swim through bays, climb up cliffs.

You know what I’d like to hear? Tales of your search. Add them in the comments section on this post at, in all their muddy, bloody, wave-desperate glory. Best one wins a prize pack from Howler Bros, your friends on the search. Congratulations to Ben Levin for his submission to last month’s feature! Read past installments from The Call of the Wild Adventure Series.