While we do cover a fair amount of ground in the latest California issue, from an Ocean Beach super-score to Baja drainers, we leave out a measly little section of the state known as Northern California. To put things into perspective, LA to San Diego is about 130 miles. And that “measly little section” — over 400 miles of coastline. Now, Northern California is no big secret; it’s not like there aren’t roads there or it’s Kauai or something. But it does remind one of the mysterious northern region of Westeros in HBO’s Game of Thrones, known as “North of the Wall.” Both are cold, rugged, foggy and teeming with dangerous creatures. And apparently, the waves (if you can find them) get very, very big. Santa Cruz’s large wave addict Anthony Tashnick has spent many hours and many miles exploring the lands beyond the gate. He’s surfed with the small, core communities up there, and he has surfed by himself. He tells us of this strange land… –Beau Flemister
SURFING: Talk to us about surfing in Northern California; what’s it like?
Anthony Tashnick: I’ve been all the way to the border and back and it’s a weird Catch-22. On one hand, it’s always easier to show up and do things by yourself, but in my case it’s hard to find someone to surf larger waves with. And you’d always like at least one buddy when you’re doing that. A lot of people go out there to get away from the crowds, but honestly, when I surf up there, I’m always looking for someone to surf with. It’s eerie up there, surfing by yourself. But there’s a few waves that are phenomenal, but there are also some locals up there that can give you a headache. [laughs] There’s also some scary situations where you can get sucked out to sea by rip currents. Sometimes you’ll even go out with a couple buddies and you won’t even see them the whole session because it’s so spread out.
Are there a lot of spots up there?
Yeah, tons. People think Santa Cruz is getting up north, but if you look at a map of California, Santa Cruz almost seems like southern California, or at least half-way.
And I think that there’s just as many spots going north as there are going south, the spots just aren’t as friendly.
So what makes a spot “unfriendly”?
I’ve met Bigfoot a couple times; he’s pretty gnarly [laughs]. The shark factor…but I guess there’s sharks everywhere. I think just being on your own. Up there there’s no one around to find you if something goes wrong. Like what happened to Parsons in Ocean Beach. If it happened up there…God. A lot of the waves I surf up there aren’t even real waves, they’re more like novelty spots. Like slabby boils or big wedges off cliffs.
What’s it like up there, like in the towns in stuff?
Just a bunch of really small towns. Eureka’s pretty gnarly, like with meth-heads and stuff. Arcata’s more of a college town. You got tree huggers and loggers, so basically like democrats and republicans. Some hippies, some crack heads. A lot of old surf dogs that look more like cowboys. Like, some of the old surf guys up there look like Clint Eastwood from staring at fires for so many years because of the cold and wind. In some of these places, if you wanna go out on the town, you go to the bowling alley. [laughs] Like, people actually post up at gas stations or where ever there’s cell reception, because sometimes it’s hard to get service out there.
Do the waves get big up there a lot?
Listen, when it’s flat in Santa Cruz, there’s a spot that breaks up there whose magic number is when it’s rainy, flat and bad winds down here [in Santa Cruz]. And it’ll be huge. I was house sitting a buddy’s place up there one time for a month and rode my Mav’s board — a 10’6’’ — like, three days a week. It was my main board. I rode the thing maybe 20 times that month.
Any advice for people looking to go surf up there?
North of the Gate, predicting the conditions and swells is so much more difficult than in Southern California. If you go up there on a whim, you’ll probably get completely skunked. It takes time to know the spots. It really is a wild goose chase sometimes. And up north it’s a different world. No nonsense. The surfers up there are only into what’s new with boards….and that’s it. No colors, no stickers. You don’t go up there with a colorful wetsuit [laughs] When I go up, I peel off all my stickers, ride an old, yellowing beat-up board and double-arm paddle to fit in.