The Ultimate Guide to Surfing in Huntington Beach

by Tom Sanchez

Some surfing in Huntington Beach to bag waves on one of the USA’s most iconic pier spots, where WSL comps and legendary names have worked their craft.

Surfing in Huntington Beach at a glance

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The good

  • Great competition schedule
  • Famous Cali pier breaks
  • Beachside hotels

The bad

  • Best breaks are actually north and south
  • Some say the pier is a mediocre break but we like it

This guide is just one part of our complete guide to surfing in California and surfing on the West Coast

What’s in this guide to surfing in Huntington Beach?

An introduction to Huntington Beach surf

Surfing in Huntington Beach

Hailed as ‘Surf City USA’, Huntington Beach is a real mecca for wave lovers on the West Coast. It’s one of the most important surf towns in the world, let alone just in California. It was the stomping ground of Irish-Hawaiian surf pioneer George Freeth back in 1908, and The Big Kahuna himself, Duke Kahanamoku, choose Huntington as his base in later decades. That’s the history, and today a whole industry lives off it – there are surf shops, surf schools, surf camps and more packed into the vibrant town center.

The waves revolve around the legendary Huntington Beach Pier. It’s got breaks to the north and south, which will work on different swell directions. They peel across the beach on one side, but also give those death-defying rides through the timber joists if you’re feeling Houdini-esque. Loads of WSL and regional surf comps make use of those spots, but there are more up and down the beach, offering a mix of sandbar waves and tubey river mouths that extend south to Newport Beach and as far north as Long Beach.

A guide to Huntington Beach surf spots

Huntington Beach surfer

Laguna

We won’t lie – Laguna isn’t the best surf spot in south California. If you’re coming to the Golden State for the express purpose of surfing, it might be better to dodge this one. (The waves in nearby Encinitas or San Clemente are far superior). If you want to experience a well-to-do vacay suburb of LA and see some of the prettiest beaches in the area while having a surf on the side, this could be the spot for you! The best breaks are Brooks Street, which can get some beefy lefts when there’s some strong SW or NW swell in.

Read our complete guide to surfing in Laguna right now

Newport Beach

Stretching up the side of the Balboa Peninsula, Newport Beach has some fantastic exposure to the south swells. It’s a bit like Huntington in that it’s brilliantly reliable and has typical SoCal beach breaks around the piers, often with plenty for different levels. However, Newport Beach tends to be a touch smaller than Huntington, and there are a few breaks – like Newport Point – that really need the stars to align for anything to happen. The crowds are better, though.

Read our complete guide to surfing in Newport Beach right now

Huntington Pier (South)

The early home of the OP Pro contest and now the US Open of Surfing (A WSL qualifier that sees more than half a million people flock to the spot when it’s on), the south break at the Huntington Beach Pier is the stuff of legends. It’s funny really, because it’s nowhere near the quality of some of the breaks in SoCal, but the mythic status assures it has a regular crowd, so don’t ever expect to be alone.

The south side of the pier works better in the winter months, because the NW swell direction drags under the wooden pilings to gather and shape. It then sort licks around the pier itself and forms of the sandbanks to create a slabby wave with a rippable open face. The shape holds well and is very consistent, mainly due to the phenomenon known as the pier bowl – a certain arrangement of sandbanks that occurs at jetties like this that offers consistent waves that angle beautifully in a sort of semicircular motion as they head towards the beach.

In the summer months, the south side of Huntington Pier is often blackballed (the lifeguards raise a flag prohibiting surfing), so the crowds move to the more reliable north. The wave is generally a high-performance playground with shortboards in abundance. Wear your sunscreen and be ready to paddle constantly to keep your place – the currents shift you up and down the beach like no one’s business!

Huntington Pier (North)

The north side of the pier is an altogether similar wave to the south. The main difference is it tends to prefer summer SW swells. It’s also a noticeably shorter wave, but has the tendency to hollow out much faster than the south. That’s why it’s often the go-to option for shortboarders more fussed about a quick meeting in the green room than punching out turn after turn. Again, the pier bowl sandbanks help to shape it into a lovely, rounded peak that falls both left and right. The rights are better and seem to naturally mellow as you approach the timber pilings, although bigger winter days can see gutsy riders glide on through. Always crowded, usually fun.

Goldenwest (22nd Street)

Goldenwest is the name of the spot by the exit of 22nd street a little north up the Huntington Beach promenade. It’s actually a really similar wave to the pier, but less rounded and more prone to closeouts. The payoff for that is the crowds, which are usually a fraction of the size. Goldenwest (22nd Street) is an A-frame at heart, working best on W and SW on those summer and fall mornings when there’s an offshore wind to match.

Bolsa Chica

Long Bolsa Chica State Beach can be accessed off the Pacific Coast Highway about 10 minutes drive north of Huntington Beach proper. It’s basically where the coast opens into a string of pretty reliable sandbank beach breaks. There’s nowhere near the same crowd as down on the pier, so it’s a good place to get your water legs before taking the plunge and paddling out with the local crews. The tendency for Bolsa Chica to get a little crumbly makes it a perfect choice for beginners and intermediates after a few ankle-burner turn fests. Anything overhead closes the entire stretch out and winds can play havoc with the spot, so check the forecast. Waves are smaller at the north end.

Surfside

Monster west swells can drop bombs off the Surfside Jetty. It’s an expert only spot when it’s working and needs big periods and low winds to hold the shape. The take off is about 100m from the rocks of the jetty itself and the paddle out is tricky.

Long Beach

Spot 3 desc

What we’d take on a south California surf trip…

WETSUITS (Men):

  • SUMMER: XCEL Comp 2mm Short Sleeve Springsuit | A high-performance spring suit for men that has the Channel Flex tech we LOVE from Xcel. Perfect for longer sunset and sunrise sessions in SoCal between June and August. 
  • SPRING/FALL: Men’s Xcel Comp 3/2  FA19 | A solid 3/2 to carry you through the Cali shoulder seasons, the Comp is one of our forever favs. It’s got Plush Thermolite insulation and is super stretchy. 
  • WINTER: Vissla 7 Seas 4​/3 Chest Zip Wetsuit | The 7 Seas is one of the top all-rounders. We like it for SoCal because the 4/3 feels like a 3/2 and you often don’t need to go the whole hog here. Solid and versatile suit for whatever San Clemente can muster in winter. 

WETSUITS (Women)

  • SUMMER: Rip Curl 2mm Dawn Patrol Long Sleeve Springsuit | By June and July the south swells will have brought some warmth to the SoCal waters and there’s a three-month window when you can usually get away with a shorty. This is corker for the ladies – it’s got the E5 neoprene (warm and flexy) along with blind-stitched seams. 
  • SPRING/FALL: Sisstrevolution 3​/2 7 Seas Print Back Zip Wetsuit | Sisstrevolution are making some awesome suits right now, and this 7 Seas is no different. Good tech and looks fantastic too. 

BOARDS:

  • LibTech Nude Bowl | The dream of a one-trick quiver, this versatile board offers some extra volume but also a real party on the rails. For us, there’s not much that can beat it at the intermediate level. 

SUNSCREEN: Salt & Stone SPF 30 Lip Balm | Super important stuff – take this to SoCal and reapply like every 20 minutes. Summer surfing here can burn!

Where to stay when surfing in Huntington Beach

Surfing in Huntington Beach might prove tricky if you find yourself miles away from the nearest breaks. The same goes for the surf competitions that swing through the town every year. Cue this list of three of the top surf stays in the area…

Huntington Surf Inn

Surf-hotel-top-pick

Huntington Surf Inn is Huntington’s premier surfer stay. It’s located just over the road from the pier, so you can grab a prime spot in the lineup just minutes after leaving your bed (getting there early is key, too). Rooms are simple but comfy and there’s a terrace with views out over the Pacific Ocean.

Paséa Hotel & Spa

Oh yeaaa – do things right in Huntington Beach by treating yourself to a spot of pampering at the Paséa Hotel & Spa. It’s a gorgeous resort with a swimming pool perched above the Pacific Ocean. There’s also a Turkish hammam spa for ironing out those pop-up kinks and muscle pains. It really is a stunning place to stay.

Surf City Inn

Price is the main reason you’d go to Surf City Inn over our other recommendations here. That said, the Surf City Inn is pretty well equipped, has spacious doubles, and easy parking. It’s not near the famous pier though. It’s up on the northern breaks in Surfside.

When to surf in Huntington Beach

The best time to go surfing in Huntington Beach is the winter. It’s got the strongest W and NW swells, which are perfect for the world-class south side of Huntington Beach Pier. You should also find that there are generally fewer people in the water and plenty of strong, powerful sets coming in all up and down this section of shoreline. Fall and summer tend to be better for beginners, but watch out for the blackballing of surf at midday.

Huntington Beach waves

Summer (June-August)

The beaches get busy in this part of California when the summer sets in. THe surfing still continues, but it will get blackballed (disallowed) by the lifeguards when too many people join the lineup – that usually happens around 10am in summer, which is fine because it matches with the dying of the offshore winds. Summer swell directions lend themselves to the beach breaks at Goldenwest and the north side of the pier.

Fall (September-October)

Fall has the same transitory swell direction as spring, but with the added bonus of offshore Santa Ana winds. It’s a great time to be in the water in Huntington Beach, with strong and powerful sets working on both sides of the pier. The water’s also at its annual warmest, which means you might even have some sessions outside of the neoprene!

Winter (December-February)

Stronger westerly swells kick in when November comes. They’re a gift for the south side of the pier. Meanwhile, the surf comps finish and the crowds disappear, leaving many of the prime Huntington Beach surf spots relatively (notice: relatively) empty. While the consistency that comes to the pier makes winter the best season, it’s not all good news. The waves are powerful on direct W channels, so beginners might not enjoy so much. The water can also be darn cold, warranting the 4/3 and the boots.

Spring (March-May)

Spring isn’t bad but isn’t spectacular when it comes to surfing in Huntington Beach. As a transition season, it does offer some nice swells from the W and the NW but also from the SW, all of which will work on the pier spot. The real issue is unpredictable winds, which can often be onshore and cause the waves up to Bolsa to completely close out. On the upside, the crowds are probably the smallest of the year.

Did you know that surfers are three times more likely to develop melanoma than non surfers? Yikes…

A good block is totally essential!

We’ve got the complete lowdown on the best surfer’s sunscreens on the market right now, focussing on the creme-de-la-creme. AKA: Zinc-infused blocks that are easy to pack and apply.

Surf shops in Huntington Beach

Huntington Beach isn’t called Surf City USA for nothing. It’s got some cracking surf shops to match the rep. They include:

Jack’s Surfboards

Jack’s Surfboards has long been one of the big name surf suppliers down on Huntington Beach. They’ve been going from this location since 1975 and continue to offer arguably the best selection of gear in Surf City USA. From Volcom rashies to Billabong wetsuits, there’s loads to warm the skin. You could also drop in to look at pop outs and be here literally hours. Helpful staff finish the lot in style.

Huntington Surf & Sport

Another classic Huntington surf outlet, Huntington Surf & Sport has a great range of pop-out boards (the Lost selection is particularly good). Convenient location near the beach on the Bike Trail, right behind the Duke statue. Seems about right.

Where to eat and drink in Huntington Beach

Check out our selection of eateries and cafes to see where to chow down while surfing in Huntington Beach.

Surf Cafea

The name should say it all – this is a cafe made for surfers. It’s pretty darn great too. They make some of the top fresh waffles in Huntington, dusted with herbs and sugar. The coffee is wonderful and espressos start at just $2.75. Stay in if you have time because the interior’s pub-style social tables are pretty cracking spots for your morning joe.

Sancho’s Tacos

A trip to Sancho’s Tacos is something of a rite of passage for surfers coming off the spurting rights of the Huntington Beach Pier. The spot defies all the chic coast bistros with its down-to-earth Mexican fare and casual menu. Not expensive but can be spicy. Yeehaa.


We might use affiliate links in this post. Basically, you click em’ and we get a little something from your booking or purchase. They help us keep offering more and more in-depth surf guides to awesome places all around the globe. So, thanks for that!

This guide is just one part of our complete guide to surfing in California and surfing on the West Coast

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