Photograph by Catherine Karnow
Somewhere along the 80 miles (129 kilometers) of glorious northern California wilderness coastline between Fort Bragg and Eureka is a secret surf break as perfect in form as in setting. The Lost Coast wave is the stuff of American legend: a big, consistent, year-round swell that washes onto a rocky shore with high energy and perfect curvature—fast, clean, with long, long sweeps. But here’s the real secret of the Lost Coast: The hidden wave is actually many.
The coast is long, the breaks are numerous, and only a handful of surfers are there to engage them. Between sets, the lucky few look inland at sheer cliffs crowned with coast redwoods and the sudden rise of the King Range, while offshore stretches a wild oceanscape punctuated by sea stacks and the spouts of migrating gray whales.
To access it all, drive to the end of Shelter Cove Road, the only route that reaches the little fishing village of Shelter Cove (stake out a campsite), then walk south from the boat ramp. The first break, Foster’s, is probably chest high. Fun. Or keep walking south a quarter mile (.4 kilometers) to Deadman’s, a bigger wave but very surfable. Another mile down is McKees, a jut of rock that acts like a true point break. If Deadman’s is chest high, it’s head or head-and-a-half here. Whether or not it’s the Lost Coast wave is something you’ll have to ask the local surfers. Pack a five-millimeter suit for 48º to 52º (9° to 11° Celsius) water. Watch for sharks.
Need to Know: For Lost Coast logistics, visit sheltercove-lostcoast.com.
Originally published in the March/April 2009 edition of National Geographic Adventure magazine