Riding Rodeo Beach
The surf's tough, but there's no giving up
The sunlit blue sky is dazzling as I emerge from murky gray water. Even though I was only under six or seven seconds, breathing air again has never seemed so sweet.
Turning around, I see my board floating a few feet from me. Quickly I swim over and pull myself up just before a five foot wave of icy water crashes down on top of me. With a steep and exposed beach, the waves come fast and hard at Rodeo Beach.
Just north of the Golden Gate, Rodeo Beach is the easiest surf spot to get to in Marin. But it is no way the easiest spot to surf. With both a point break and sandbar break, there are usually waves to surf—as long as the tide is low and the wind isn't too hard. The best time to surf Rodeo is in the morning before the northwestern winds coast in at noon. And if you miss the low tide you're pretty much out of luck, as the waves crest too close to the beach to surf.
At Rodeo, it's a short distance from the beach to the surfing, which makes an easy paddle out. In today's warm spring sunshine, there are several people watching the fifteen or so surfers in the water.
I'm getting trashed over and over again. Two things work against me: the length of my board and my lack of speed popping up once I catch a wave. Although not technically a longboard due to its pointed nose, my 8-foot-7-inch board handles like one in the five-foot waves.The first few times I catch a wave my board slides down the face and I'm thrown off when the nose hits the trough of the wave.
At this point I'm getting discouraged, and I watch other surfers on shorter boards carving waves that break left and right. As a new set rolls in, I'm determined to finally catch and ride a wave without wiping out. I go out a little farther out in the water than previously, which gives me more time to pop up before the wave crests.
When the third wave of the set begins to rise I turn and start to paddle. I feel my board start to rise and then slide down the face of the wave. Bringing my hands in I push off the board and jump to my feet. I stick the landing. Transferring my weight to my back foot, I lean slightly to the right. The nose of my board turns right and I shoot along the wave face. I let out a jubilant war whoop as I stay just ahead of the wave's small barrel. Leaning back and forth on the board along the wave, I ride into the beach where I pause for a moment to bask in the glow of my small triumph, then head back into the water.
At Rodeo Valley, there are many other things to do besides surf. A small bluff overlooking the water is a great spot to take photos of surfers or the rugged Pacific Coast. There are miles of hiking trails that skirt past a lighthouse and along the eastern ridge of the valley. These trails offer spectacular views of San Francisco Bay. The surfing, the hiking, and the photo opps combine to make Rodeo Valley one of my favorite spots to spend a sunny spring day.
Stephen Cosgrove is a Valley native who has a passion for enjoying the local terrain by foot, bike, tent and most recently—longboard. Join him here as he journeys forth into the Wine Country wilds and embarks on greater Bay Area excursions. You can read more at his blog