The Rock and The Pier

While without specific boundaries, the Central Coast of California is generally regarded as the 300-mile stretch of coastline between Point Mugu to the south and Monterey to the north.  Considering this part of the California coast includes such epic surf spots as Rincon and The Ranch, it’s safe to say that the Central coast has some good surf.  But north of Point Conception to just south of Santa Cruz, the number of notable surf spots starts to thin out considerably.

I grew up right in the middle of that 300-mile stretch, surfing mostly at Avila Beach (I sometimes admit with some chagrin).  As a young teen, my world was a small one, so my perception of “the Central Coast” was limited to a 25-mile area between Pismo Beach and Morro Bay. In an article I wrote last year about growing up surfing Avila Beach in the ‘60s, I wondered why Avila had become the epicenter of the Central Coast surf scene because “much better waves could be found in Morro Bay and Cayucos to the north and Pismo Beach to the south, but somehow Avila was the place to be.”

Last Wave Originals has recently added two new designs to our Surf Spot Series that highlight two of the better-known spots in this midsection of the Central Coast, “The Pier” in Pismo Beach and Morro Bay’s “The Rock.”  Both are current stops on the World Surfing League circuit, two of some 120 global contests held annually.  Originally called the International Professional Surfing, it was founded by two very familiar names in the surfing world, Fred Hemmings and Randy Rarrick.


“The Rock”

Aptly named “The Rock,” this picturesque surf spot sits in the shadow of Morro Rock, a 576-foot tall remnant of an active volcano that formed more than 20 million years ago.  Another distinctive feature of this spot is the presence of three, 450-foot smokestacks from a now-defunct steam power plant.  Built in the early 1950s but shut down in 2014, I remember the channel of warm water that was formed by its outlet; it made the paddle out easier and definitely more comfortable!

The Rock is situated at the northwest end of Morro Bay, a quaint little coastal community that has always had a very cool vibe.  Growing up, The Rock was not my go-to spot...but probably should have been.  As a kid, I remember it feeling kind of menacing and raw (especially during the winter) compared to the much more benign Avila, but The Rock has always had more consistent shape and size.  Spring and early summer winds can affect it, but mornings and evening glass-offs can be good at almost any time of year.  Access is excellent, as a large dirt parking lot sits just yards from the shoreline.  A very cool spot with some very unique features.

“The Pier”

Because my go-to spot in the ‘60s was Avila Beach, I didn’t surf The Pier much until the early ‘80s. I just remember thinking that the place was ruled by Jerry Grantham and his buddies. They were quite a bit older than me and intimidating out in the water, but Jerry was always nice to me. He had a surf shop in Pismo Beach and was a shaper, so I figured I should do my best to stay on his good side. 

A friend of mine from Avila Beach entered a surf contest at The Pier one cold, foggy weekend in 1968, and I went to check it out. I remember watching a guy take off fin first and thinking, “does that guy know the fin goes in the back?” He proceeded to drop in on a really nice right toward the pier, sunk the fin, spun his board around, made a bottom turn then ran to the nose. And the guy who didn’t know which end of his board was the nose? Well, it was none other than Mike Purpus, who went on to become a regular contest competitor and professional surfer. I think he might have known what he was doing that day in ‘68!

Like any other surf spot, The Pier at Pismo Beach has changed since I first surfed it in the mid-’60s. At the time, we could park within a few yards of the pier (for free) and always find a spot. The old parking lot has been replaced by a hotel and a seven-foot tall neon sign that says “Pismo Beach.” The town still has a pretty cool California beach town vibe, but it definitely feels more touristy than it once did. It can get a bit congested in the water, but peaks from sand bars that form both north and south of the pier help to spread out the crowds. Check it out!

Until next time,