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Steamer Lane and Some Surf History

The surf zones at Steamer Lane. Image copyright Mobile Ranger 2013.

The surf zones at Steamer Lane. Image copyright Mobile Ranger 2013.

In 2009 Surfer Magazine voted Santa Cruz as the best surf town and extolled Steamer Lane as a “world class right-hand reef-point.” Be sure you do not call it “Steamer’s Lane” or folks will get all huffy (though “Steamer’s” is acceptable). The name apparently originates from early surfers who saw huge waves in “the lane” where steamships came into the wharf.

Steamer Lane is divided into four zones: Indicators, Middle Peak, The Slot, and The Point. Total beginners should not even surf here but at Cowell Beach. Difficulty increases from Indicators out to The Point where you’d better be pretty good, and only experts surf out past the lane at Third Reef.

It was here in the 1950s and ’60s that Jack O’Neill developed the modern surfing wetsuit, which helped open surfing in cold-water locations around the world. In those days his surf shop was at Cowell Beach, where the Dream Inn now stands. Jack’s son Pat followed in his father’s footsteps. In the 1970s, frustrated with having his board trashed on the rocks, he experimented with surfboard straps that led to the modern-day “leashes.”

In 2011, the O’Neill Coldwater Classic, a huge competition held here annually in some form since the 1980s, was upgraded to an Association of Surfing Professionals World Title event. The 2013 contest was won by 25 year old Torrey Meister from Hawaii. He won a year long O’Neill sponsorship worth $50 thousand dollars.

A World Surfing Reserve: in 2011, the non-profit Save the Waves Coalition honored Santa Cruz, from Natural Bridges to Opal Cliffs east of Pleasure Point, as one of four surfing reserves worldwide. This honor was given to Santa Cruz not only to help the community understand the value of the area as a great surf spot, but also to recognize it as an important coastal ecosystem that merits protection. The other three spots are Ericeira (Portugal), Manly Beach (Australia), and Malibu (California).

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