Posts Tagged ‘Sand Dollar Beach’



***If you have just stumbled upon this piece and want to be brought up to speed before continuing on or need to refresh your memory on where we left off as a result of my lack of diligence and procrastination as a blogger check out Part 1: Big Sur, A Land of Endless Possibility and Part 2: Blind Exploration***

This wave definitely looked kill-able and from what I could tell although I was rather high up on a cliff.  I have learned many of time in my life that it always looks twice as inviting from a hundred feet up or so.  I eve had an idea on how I could get down to it involving an annoying but not terrible hike.  If I had a keen surf bud with me and not a girlfriend in tow I think I would have went for it.  Next time...

This wave definitely looked kill-able from what I could tell although I was rather high up on a cliff. I have learned many of times in my life that it always looks twice as inviting from a hundred feet up or so. I even had an idea on how I could get down to it involving an annoying but not terrible hike. If I had a keen surf bud with me and not a girlfriend in tow I think I would have went for it. Next time…

Finally after much traversing south down the Pacific Coast Highway 1 we came upon a small nondescript parking lot that by location appeared to maybe be Sand Dollar Beach.  I would also like to note that I had began to notice for the past few miles lots of areas that appeared to be surf-able while driving past.  Sand Dollar, being completely unmarked happened to be the first parking area I came to since I had started to see lots of surf.  I pulled up to a gate house that was closed, though the lot was open with an honor box for the $5 parking fee.  I was at a loss to understand what exactly I was paying five bucks for considering it was an unprotected beach, and unattended parking lot with no amenities other then a sketch ass water less prison style bathroom.

Its funny that in a place as remote as Big Sur there is still room to have your money taken from you around every corner.  I was surprised a fucking squirrel didn’t try and extort ten dollars from me to watch my car and “keep it safe”. Whatever, at this point my long search was over and surf was found.  Just to be sure I ran half way down the trail to the beach to make sure it was surf-able before donating my five smackers.  Yes, I am that fucking cheap.

Sand Dollar  Beach Big Sur

The $5 view. Certainly far from epic, but it was clean and surf-able. I was on it.

By this time it was early afternoon and a rather splendid one at that, especially for central California.  The sun was still out and the temperature warm.  Heather and I were stoked to spend a chill afternoon on the beach.  I pulled both my boards, my 5’10 and my 6’1 step up.  With no one out and nothing around except for huge cliffs and rock formations I had no way of gauging how big it was out there.  I don’t know what it is about once one gets above Point Conception, but all scale for actual wave size and power are out the window for me.  I guess I am and always will be a pampered Southern California surfer.

I love when I am about to paddle out at a surf spot and am greeted with a warm sign like this...

I love when I am about to paddle out at a surf spot and am greeted with a warm sign like this…

We loaded up and headed down a trail about 200 yards or so down to the beach.  As we descended down to the beach  I was able to get a better lay of the land.  As far as wave height, I still had no idea.  Could be head high, could be double overhead.  I would find out soon enough.  After coming down a few flights of stairs we found ourselves standing in the middle of a large beach closed in by a massive cliff headland to the north corner and a series of copious rock formations to the south end. The sand was of an almost dark green pigment.

I pulled out my step up since now at beach level the surf was with out a doubt a bit more size able then I had initially intended.  I did not know for certain, yet estimated that it was surely over head on the outside.  In a futile attempt to get the lay of the land I took a walk to the south side of the beach to see if there was anything with more shape then what the break had to offer.  Maybe I would find some tucked away reef or wedge between or even inside of the rock formations.  I found nothing of the sort, but between two of these enormous rocks was a deep water channel that looked as though it could provide an easy paddle to the outside.

Unsure of the potential hazards of taking that route I decided against it.  I really had no idea what was under the water there and to be honest did not want to find out.  The paddle out from the middle of the beach where we laid camp looked annoying and long, but seemed to me to be the safest way to go.  Also I have a saying I have always lived by my entire surfing life by: “if you cant make the paddle out through the impact zone then you have no business being out there”.  This mantra I especially try and hold to in places where clear channels exist.  The last thing any one who surfs should do is put himself/herself in a situation that is beyond said surfer’s skill or fitness level.  If you can’t handle the beating it takes to make it from the beach then you probably should not be out there in the first place.  I have seen and even saved one kook too many that got in over his head as a result of an easy channel access.

Sand Dollar Beach looking toward the north side.

Sand Dollar Beach looking toward the north side.

Keep in mind that the place was pretty deserted aside from one or two other couples on the beach.  The one dude that did have a board with him, had a long board and was bailing.  Judging from the conditions I assume he had a look and decided to not paddle.  Ironically the place is pretty much written up as the most user friendly beach for surfing in all of Big Sur, maybe with a jet ski.  It looked far from friendly, cold and a lot of work for little reward seemed more like it.  While exploring the beach I found all these pale greenish little rocks rounded and smooth from the ocean that looked like jade.   I am pretty sure it wasn’t although I read later on some where that Sand Dollar Beach is also called Jade cove because of the green stones that litter the beach.  People do on occasion actually find pieces of jade down there.  Whether the few I took with me are jade or not is beyond me.  They looked cool and fancied by them I slipped the little green rocks into my pocket and walked back to where Heather was chilling.

By this point I didn’t know what to do.  As I was watching it the surf conditions were steadily becoming more rough by the minute even though the wind was dead still.  Literally ten minutes prior it was glassy.  Big Sur, go figure.  The sensible part of me was ready to bag it.  I didn’t come up to Big Sur to surf anyhow and at least I tried.  It had been a fun a day.  Why not just hang out and enjoy the beach with my girl?  Unfortunately the obsessive compulsive side got the best of me and I found myself suiting up for no other reason then the fact that I was there and the initial objective was to get wet and that was exactly what was going to happen. I for whatever reason decided to put my step up away and pull my 5’10.

An unexpected yet exactly what I expected of the Big Sur surfing experience.  Big, windy, scary conditions with no one out but me.

Making the most out of the mess that it was out there.

I walked to the water’s edge all suited up hood and all.  I figured the water had to be cold and with nothing but white water as far as the eye could see I knew I was going to be spending more time under the water then on top of it.  The waves were breaking way out side as I began to work my way through the first inner bar.  Then I moved on to the second.  By the time I cleared this I had no idea where I was.  The current was all over the place.  From that vantage I had a good look at what the outside had on offer.  Overall it looked like a bunch of giant close outs that I did not have enough board under me to even deal with.  Meanwhile the second bar I was sitting on was offering some head to over head reform that was pretty sick looking and way cleaner then the outside.  It was a bit hard to line up with all the turbulence and current, but I made the most of what there was to surf.  I figured at the very least it was worth a twenty count.   Heather had the camera out and somehow managed to get a few shots despite all the mess.
BigSurfSeq2Believe it or not it was not as cold out there as it looked.  After an hour or so of working my arms in search of kill-able reform and figuring I pushed the shark attack envelope enough for one day I opted to call it quits.  I accomplished my goal and found a few waves.  I also learned a bit about the erratic and volatile conditions of Big Sur.  In particular an age old lesson I get constantly schooled on whenever I am north of Santa Barbara is that the surf is always way bigger, way meaner, way trickier, way more powerful then it looks from the beach.  You think by now after all  my travels, trials and tribulations this would have hit home by now.  It never does though proving Einstein’s definition of insanity: doing the same thing over again and expecting different results.  I sort of feel like that is exactly what surfing is all about.  Sometimes we do get different results.  Maybe surfing is insanity?

A glimpse of what is to come...

A brief moment of victory in a session that was for the most part filled with defeat.

I floated in stoked to have gotten wet and ready to make the most out of what was left of the day with Heather.  To her credit she took all of the surf photos of that I have used in this piece.  Who would have thought a chick from Ohio with no beach or surf background could manage to snag some decent pics?  Go figure.  I came in and shed off my neoprene.  It was still warm and sunny on the beach.  Since I never have to time to actually hang out and relax on the beach at home this mini vacation was the perfect time.

I thought I left the hood behind along with New Jersey.  Cold water is still cold water.

I thought I left the hood behind along with New Jersey. Cold water is still cold water.

My plans of a nice sunny afternoon on the beach were quickly thwarted by a crazy dense fog that rolled in with the blink of an eye.  With this fog came a very eerie bone chilling cold air.  That was it for us, we were done.  Heather and I packed up and headed back to the car.  Both our tummies were rumbling for a repast back at the cabin in front of the fire place.  Of course we had absolutely no food and no idea where we could buy the antipasto spread we were looking to enjoy with our wine.  Our first stop was this chill bakery/restaurant ironically called “The Big Sur Bakery and Restaurant, where we procured a cup full of fresh local olives and two specialty croissants.    I figured just in case we find nothing else at the very least we could make a meal out of that.  I must say from the little I saw and ate from there I would highly recommend and I will with out a doubt stop there my next time through.

The warm fire we couldn't  wait to get in front of.  Unlike the broken hot tub that let us down.

The warm fire we couldn’t wait to get in front of. Unlike the broken hot tub that let us down.

Then we came across a bull shit deli/market that was technically hardly one or the other.  One thing I will tell you about Big Sur the scenery may be free, but everything else is far from it.  Be prepared to pay top dollar for everything.  Even though its only 30 miles from Carmel one  would think it was on the fucking moon with how over priced everything is.  Long story short (ha, that’s a laugh with anything I tell) we spent a combined $70 on olives, croissants, a cucumber, two tomatoes, cheese, salami, prosciutto, bread sticks and a bottle of syrah(which was one of the cheaper purchases).  That being said I made a pretty bad ass antipasto platter that paired great with the wine.  It was excellent way to end a fun day of adventuring.


Day two of our fun tilled Big Sur adventure was over.  Tune in next time for part 4 of this epic saga of a romantic getaway gone wild!  Well as romantic as a trip with a surfer can possibly be.  I promise more great pictures and maybe even some tamer surf?  Find out in Part IV: The Final Juant.

A glimpse of what is to come...a northern Emma Wood?

A glimpse of what is to come…a northern Emma Wood?

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Just another spot with surf potential on the right day.

I poked my head out from under the covers to sounds of sinking birds and the wind rustling through the trees.  It was freezing in the cabin post fire going out sometime in the night.  I got a breath of the fresh crisp air before snuggling back under the covers with my baby. Fuck it was cold.  Santa Barbara has some cold to it in the early morning, but this felt like straight up winter time.  In no rush why not sleep in a bit.  I spend and have spent nearly every single morning for the last 23 years of my surfing life getting up early for waves.  When I have an opportunity I relish in the luxury of being able to kick back, relax and not worry about rushing off to the next surf session.

That being said the call of the ocean to a surfer within a reasonable distance to the ocean is likened to the drums from the game in the movie “Jumanji”.  Just knowing that rumble is out there is enough to give no rest to the keen.  Despite being all warm and happy next to my girl half my mind was thinking about what surf potential was out there.  By ten I had us up and ready to get on the road for a look about.  My thoughts on the whole day was it was a vast amount of coastline to be scoured for both sightseeing and surf.  So why not just pick a direction and wander about and see what turns up.


A random spot I came across with near  to impossible access.

As I stated earlier in Part I I had absolutely nothing to go on besides a bad surf guide written by Surfer Magazine that my boy Mark left at my pad like 4 years ago.  If you ever see Surfer Magazine’s Guide to Northern and Central California Surf Spots don’t buy it, accept it as a gift or if you happen to find it in the trash leave it there.  If a buddy leaves it at your place mail it back to him or use it as kindling as I should have.  In the end it’s my own damn fault for not taking the time to research it better.  I literally own three California surf guides and had a central California AAA guide my dad left at my place this past fall. Some how I failed to take anything with me besides the aforementioned bull shit surf guide.  The only map I had was the entire state of California Map I keep in my car, on which the Big Sur area is about the size of a fucking nickel.

Don't even open this piece of shit.  Surfer Mag should be ashamed of themselves for putting out such a piece of trash.

Don’t even open this piece of shit. Surfer Mag should be ashamed of themselves for putting out such a piece of trash.

With a lack of any real plan or guidance I decided to go about things the old fashioned way.  I figured Heather and I could meander about the PCH looking for the few spots the surf guide happened to mention.  The closest spot to where I was staying was the Big Sur River Mouth inside of Andrew Molera State Park.  From what I read there may have been a decent river mouth bar and a few possible reef breaks with in the vicinity.  We pulled into the park entrance and it was $10 to get in.  I asked the guy if it was worth it and he said he had no idea, but that the only foot bridge over the estuary to get to the beach had been washed out.  To even check the surf I would have had to paddle across about a 100 yard creek with god knows what kind of sea life in it.  Not feeling that situation I declined.  The ranger referred me to Pfeiffer State Beach further south of there.


This reef break was a perfect A-frame. The left looked a bit more hallow though fast while the right peeled for easily 50 yards before meeting up with a close out end section. I will say this much it is way bigger then it looks. I was pretty far away when I took this photo. Even with no one out it had to be at least 8-10 ft solid. Access to it was just about impossible. I talked to some guy about it later on and he said in order to surf the spot you have to have someone drop you off, hop the fence then hike a mile and a half to it .

Rather then go by some obviously surf clueless ranger’s suggestion I got back on the road and headed north.  The guide had mentioned another beach that was considered the first surf-able spot in the northern end of Big Sur, Garrapatta State Park.  I knew that we would at least pass Point Sur on the way and countless other sites of interest.  Yes I was technically scouring the coastline for a wave to ride, but we were also doing a bit of exploration in general.  Sometimes the best way to take in a place is by just ambling about.  Point Sur was a bit of a let down considering that access is restricted on the south side and the actual point to military and government personnel only and the north side is private property with plenty of no trespassing signs and barbed wire.  I read in a leaflet about Point Sur back at the cabin that tours are given of the light house only on Saturdays from like 10 am to like 3 pm  and a reservation had to be made a week in advance.  For this trips purposes it was no meant to be.  Once again that is alright thus giving me an excuse to make another trip, not that I would need one.

Point Sur, one of the more unique points I have visited.

Point Sur, one of the more unique points I have visited.

In a lot of ways Point Sur was a bit like Morro Rock except connected to land.  It was shame access to it was beat.  None the less it was still a nice vista.  As far as cool stuff to see on the way north the sights were endless and almost too much to take in.  We passed over historical bridges, saw a cool looking sea cave, and overall just something rather incredible for the senses around every turn.  Everything is just so amazing down to the opaque blue color of the ocean.  If not for the thick jacket covering my body I would have thought I was in a tropical locale.

If I didn't know better I would say this picture was shot a lot closer to the equator then it was.

If I didn’t know better I would say this picture was shot a lot closer to the equator then it was.

We pulled up at Garrapatta and I could see the waves rolling in from the side of the road.  One thing was for sure the waves were pretty solid.  It was also rather clean and throwing from what I could tell.  I literally ran down the trail in excitement thinking I was about to score a solo barrel fest.  Not that the idea of surfing by myself in very sharky waters was a settling thought.   Fuck it, if it was really as good as I thought, it was worth the risk.  When it comes to sharks I always go back to this crazy Aussie body boarder I used to chill with motto: “mate I reckon if you get taken and survive you will never have to pay for a beer for the rest of your life  and if you don’t, then no worries”.  I have had a good run in this life anyhow. If my number was drawn so be it.  There are far worse ways to die then doing what you love.  Becoming part of the food chain is a useful death after all.

My first view of Garrapatta State Beach from the road.  It looked like some epic West Australian Beach Break.

My first view of Garrapatta State Beach from the road. It looked like some epic West Australian Beach Break.

I literally ran down the trail to the cliffs edge and right away I was gripped with the harsh reality that what I was face to face with was more of a gnarly shore dump then a sick barrel.  If I were a sponger I would have been all over it or if I felt like getting my ass handed to me for a sicky or two.  In water just around 50F I was not about to go for a beating.  The place definitely had real potential.  Maybe on a different swell angle, tide, throw in some offshore wind and it could be a solid break.  That may as well be the greatest mind fuck to surfing out in Big Sur the endless potential and the question “what if….?”.   Either way it was another beautiful site to take in and totally worth the drive.  I bet one could spend a life time surfing this coast and never even scratch the surface.

This was a cove I found some found in a nook of the coast  that was closed out when I came upon but on its day could be all time?

This was a cove I found, some in a nook of the coast that was closed out when I came upon it but on its day could be all time?  Look how glass it was being almost completely sheltered from wind.

What little understanding I had of the geography of Big Sur I figured there was not much more to see if we continued north thus we cruised back south and got a little lunch and re-grouped.  At this point I really wanted to get wet.  If you seriously surf then you totally understand that after a certain period of time passes where you are completely surrounded by waves and water and have not paddled the itch becomes uncontrollable.  My book and other pre-trip research mentioned something about a Sand Dollar Beach.   Actually, I surfed with some random guys at New Jetty who were from up that way and had said a bit about a Mill Creek also.  Later I would find out that was considered one of the better waves in the area although I never made it there myself.  The plan was set to head for this Sand Dollar beach.


More hard to get to set ups with potential

South we drove, and drove and drove.  I really can have absolutely no understanding of distance at times especially when I don’t have a map.  About half way there we managed to stumble upon this sick waterfall that literally dropped down onto this picture perfect crescent beach into the ocean.  It was one of those sights you would see in a magazine or a poster on a wall.  The funny thing was I only pulled over cause I saw a few cars parked on the side of the road and my surf instincts told me there might be something worth a look.  Whenever I am in a location where there is surf I always check out a few cars parked near a nondescript beach access.  Its how  I have managed to stumble upon some of the best spots in my life.  Plus the lay of the land looked like it could be a cove of sorts.


This was the view from the car when I parked.  I mean c'mon where can you just happen to come upon a scene like this?

This was the view from the car when I parked. I mean c’mon where can you just happen to come upon a scene like this?

We got out of the car after having to wait for Heather to change back out of her heels and into her hiking shoes.  The swap initially made for lunch so she would look her best at the tiny tourist/country bumpkin/camping general store near our cabin.  Absurd, maybe, but it is also one of the reasons I love her.  Would you expect anything less from me?  We followed this little path a ways before coming out into a clearing in full view of this breath taking cove.  There right in front of us was this picturesque waterfall.  Ironically my buddy Diego had shown me a picture of this spot when I told him I was coming up to Big Surf.  Now here I was staring right at it.  If not for a little dumb luck and blind fate I could have missed out completely.  I think the way we found the fall made it that much more special to us.


Mc Way Falls

At this point I must say it had been a rather complete day for most.   For me, well, my hair was still dry and I was jonesin’ for a surf.  I found a little map near the falls that showed we were not far off of Sand Dollar Beach and a chance to ride a wave or two in some capacity.  Tune in next time for Part III, the sketch that is surfing in Big Sur.  Sorry for the horrible delay between segments, but I have been super busy, lazy and what not.  This shit takes time to compose as weak ass as it is.  I hope you have enjoyed it thus far.  If you missed Part I check it out here.  For Part III click here.

A glimpse of what is to come...

A glimpse of what is to come…

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