Everyone loves perfect surf, but not too many of us get to enjoy it that often. And that might actually be a good thing.
If we surfed perfect waves every day, we’d probably get a bit desensitized to the experience—bored, even. Maybe that’s why pros like Tom Curren, Mason Ho and Jamie O’Brien tend to seek out bizarre, novelty surfing experiences, riding weird boards in weirder waves. Maybe they’ve had too much of a good thing, and need to do something different once in awhile to keep surfing fresh.
But even if you only get perfect surf a few times per years, novelty waves still have their place. There’s something about riding a silly wave that reminds us what surfing is supposed to be about: having fun for fun’s sake. Performance, competition, the serious side of surfing—there’s a place and a time for all of that. But when we first started exploring the ocean on surfboard, bodyboards, or even just with fins, every wave was a novelty, and that’s why every wave was the best of our life.
Here are five novelty waves that can help remind us that, at its core, surfing is just another way to play.
There are wedging waves all over the world, bizarre refracting double-ups caused by cliffs and jetties and just about anything else that can send swell back on itself from a constructive angle. But possibly the most famous wedge is the one on the south end of Newport Beach—named, appropriately, The Wedge. When bombing south swells steam into Southern California, The Wedge turns into the biggest show in town, with crowds lining the beach to watch bodysurfers, bodyboards, and these days even surfers get annihilated in the left-hand closeouts.
The constructive interference can be so great that The Wedge can be nearly twice as big as anywhere else south of Point Conception, which means that not only is it Southern California’s novelest novelty, but it also might be the region’s biggest surf spot.
There are a dozen surfable bore tides around the world, and all of them are novel and unique in their own way. But perhaps none is as impressive as the Turnagain Arm bore tide. An hour drive from Anchorage, the Turnagain Arm bore wave is predictable with the tides, can be surfed for miles, and is frequented by the strangest group of “surfers” you’ve ever seen—many of whom have never actually surfed an ocean wave.
But the most impressive thing about the wave is it’s setting, nestled between the mountains of the Kenai Peninsula and Alyeska ski resort. Whether you are heading to Alaska to paddle, ski/snowboard, mountain bike, hunt, camp, or simply explore, if you time your arrival into Anchorage right, there’s no reason you can’t surf too.
What could be more unique and unexpected than surfing in the middle of a landlocked city? That’s exactly what happens in Munich, where one of the oldest river surfing communities has been thriving for over three decades. Crowds watch from the banks and bridge over the Eisbach as dozens of surfers ride a standing wave on this small arm of the Isar River, which conveniently makes its way through Munich’s central park. Cold, urban, and in no way oceanic—but it’s still sort of surfing.
The Left Under the Golden Gate Bridge
This wave has a name, and it isn’t really a secret, but the locals like to keep it quiet, so let’s just say that it breaks in San Francisco Bay, and has one of the best backdrops in surfing. Sometimes the novelty of a wave is less about its odd shape, and more about the fact that the setting is just so damned unique.
That’s certainly the case here, where surfers can ride waves in the shadow one of California’s most beloved landmarks. The fact that the wave is relatively fickle and rare only adds to its mystique.
Waves can be novelties for lots of reasons, including their location, their difficulty of access, and how infrequently they break. Cortez Bank has all three of these factors going on. An underwater seamount 100 miles off the coast of Southern California, Cortez Bank may be farther from land than any other known wave.
It only breaks when it’s huge, and is only surfable when the wind is perfect, which is incredibly rare when large swells assaulting the US West Coast. Perhaps that’s why the number of times it has been surfed can be counted on your hands. Or maybe it has more to do with the huge expense and logistical nightmare of surfing a wave that is more than a day’s sail from terra firma. Whatever the case, this is probably the scariest and rarest novelty wave in existence—which of course ups its novelty factor even more.
Cover shot by Don Dianda.