Malibu: An Icon of Surfing Culture
When Malibu was the undisputed hub of surfing culture in the late ‘50s and ‘60s, places like Surfrider Beach were virtually synonymous with endless longboard sets and beach blanket gatherings. Decades later, the ‘Bu has changed, but the shores that shaped legends like Miki Dora and Terry Tracy still captivate with consistent swell and a now-notorious place in surfing history.
Set on a south-facing coastline west of Santa Monica, Malibu has the perfect design for clean lines stacked to the horizon. Storms in the South Pacific send long, rolling, two-to-four-foot waves to beaches near Malibu Beach Inn from May to September and beyond, and mid-century surfer favorites like Zuma are still the best places to paddle out.
But the history of surfing in the ‘Bu actually dates back to the early 1900s, when pioneers like Tom Blake and Sam Reid were willing to quite literally go the extra mile for the perfect wave.
Photo: Mike Peel
Before a town was established, Malibu was home to an expansive coastal ranch owned by the Rindge family. The fenced boundaries of the ranch were regularly patrolled by guards, making the shoreline inaccessible to early surfers. Among the few who would paddle the last two miles from the edge of the ranch were Blake and Reid, who became the first two surfers to surf Malibu Point. In the years that followed, the Pacific Coast Highway was paved, opening the coast to all, and surfboard designs finally caught up with Malibu’s swift waves, making it easier for surfers to enjoy longer, more controlled rides.
By the ‘50s and ‘60s, Surfrider Beach was the focal point of surfing in Southern California. Famous and soon-to-be famous surfers paddled out, while some of the biggest names in board-making history honed their craft on shore. Perhaps most notably, Dora – who you may know from cult classic The Endless Summer – and other surfing legends began to define the classic surfing style that we still see in the sport today.
Despite the great swell at Surfrider (Malibu Point offers three right breaks, with First Point being the one that really shines throughout the tidal spectrum), it was the atmosphere that made the beach famous. White sand and dramatic coastal bluffs gave the destination a feeling of being entirely removed from Los Angeles, when in fact it was only 30 miles away.
Surf music from the likes of The Beach Boys introduced the SoCal lifestyle into mainstream society, along with Hollywood beach blanket films like Gidget – considered to be the start of the popular genre and based on a real surfer girl nicknamed by Tracy. But surfing was always at the heart of the activity in the ‘Bu.
In 2010, Surfrider Beach became the first World Surfing Reserve dedicated by Save the Waves, a coalition established to protect global surf destinations. And today, seasoned surfers and beginners alike paddle out from the distinguished beach set between Malibu Lagoon and Malibu Pier.
Over the years, mainstream surfing has steadily evolved from longboarding to tube-riding to the more recent tow-in surfing. But even as the sport continues to change, Malibu will undoubtedly remain a storied name in its world-renowned history.
Our dedicated reception team at Malibu Beach Inn can arrange surf lessons with a local instructor or assist you in renting a surfboard for your stay. In addition to Surfrider Beach, we will recommend beaches such as Little Dume and Zuma Beach.