Definitive California pointbreak, often described as the "original perfect wave," located on the northern arm of Santa Monica Bay in Los Angeles County; a surf-culture hothouse, and the center for much of the advancement in surfing performance and board design from the mid-40s to the mid-60s. "Malibu," surf journalist Paul Gross wrote, "is the exact spot on earth where ancient surfing became modern surfing."
Malibu's south-facing cobblestone point is roughly 400 yards long from the famous wooden pier to Malibu Lagoon, and is divided into three connected surf breaks. First Point is the long, evenly breaking wave that made Malibu famous; Second Point produces bigger, faster, less predictable surf; waves at Third Point, farthest out, are bigger yet. Sine the mid-'80s, First Point has been ridden almost exclusively by longboarders, while shortboarders dominate Second and Third Point.
Malibu generally breaks best from late summer to early fall, in response to swells generated from Pacific Ocean storms located anywhere from Baja Mexico to New Zealand. Waves here are generally between two and four feet; on the rare days when it hits eight feet or bigger, waves can sometimes be ridden from Third Point to the pier. Warm, dry weather prevails throughout the surf season, with water temperatures usually in the mid- to upper 60s; afternoon westerly winds bring only a slight reduction in surf quality. Malibu is also an incorporated city, and a number of other surf breaks are located along its 21-mile coastline, including Topanga Beach, Big Dume and Little Dume, and Zuma Beach.
Chumash Indians lived in the area for 4,000 years and called it "Hamaliwu" ("the surf sounds loudly"); Malibu is the English version of the word. Surfing innovator Tom Blake, along with friend Sam Reid, was the first to ride Malibu in 1927, two years before this section of coast was open to the public; top California surfers like Pete Peterson and Gard Chapin rode Malibu in the '30s, and by the time America entered World War II, Malibu had earned a reputation among America's 200 or 300 surfers as the best wave on the coast.
Newly-developed construction materials were available after the war, which encouraged new thinking in board design. Malibu-area boardmakers—particularly Bob Simmons, Dale Velzy, Joe Quigg, Matt Kivlin, and Dave Sweet—quickly did away with the heavy, finless, redwood-lined plank, and developed the Malibu chip, an all-balsa board covered in fiberglass, thinner and lighter than the plank, with a stabilizing fin that allowed riders to maneuver, instead of just cutting a fixed angle across the wave. (Australian surfers still refer to all longboards as "mals"—short for Malibu board.)
While Hawaii remained the last word for big, challenging surf, Malibu was now viewed as the ultimate high-performance wave. Malibu surfers gave the sport a cultural makeover as well, with the regal archetype set by Hawaiian surfer Duke Kahanamoku replaced by the kind of bleach-blond, wise-cracking suburban California teenager who began piling into Malibu by the hundreds in the late '50s. The Malibu Colony, a private beachfront community located just past Third Point, gave the break a touch of glamour, and a few Colony movie stars—Peter Lawford and Cliff Robertson among them—were Malibu regulars. Columbia Studios producers soon recognized the sport's commercial appeal, and bought the rights to Gidget, Frederick Kohner's best-selling 1957 novel based on the experiences of Kathy "Gidget" Kohner, the author's plucky teenage daughter, who learned to surf at Malibu. Life magazine ran a photo feature on Kathy Kohner and Malibu in 1957, and two years later the movie version of Gidget debuted, kicking off an American surf craze fueled by beach movies and surf music, with Malibu holding position as Surfing Mecca. Another precedent was set as Malibu became the first break to be spoiled by crowds, with up to 150 surfers in the lineup at the same time by the summer of 1961.
Hotdog innovator and surfboard magnate Dewey Weber was a Malibu regular in the '50s and '60s, as was noseriding king Lance Carson, and beachside master of ceremonies Terry "Tubesteak" Tracy. The Malibu Surfing Association, formed in 1962, counted among its members some of the best surfers in the state, including Butch Linden, Johnny Fain, J Riddle, and Jackie Baxter. But it was Mickey Dora—the funny, cynical "Black Knight of Malibu"—who was and remains most closely associated with the break. Dora's jittery but elegant riding style is still copied by longboard surfers, and his hustling antiestablishment disposition helped shape the basic surfer character. Since the early '60s, DORA (or DORA IS KING, or DORA RULES) has been graffitied again and again in huge letters on the beachfront wall at Malibu.
The Chevy Malibu, introduced in 1964, broadened the marketing possibilities for the world's most famous surf break, and Malibu Barbie, Malibu Gum, Sizzler's Malibu Chicken Sandwich, and Malibu Caribbean Rum were among the dozens of like-named products that followed in the decades to come.
Malibu lost its position as a cutting-edge surf break in the late '60s, after the newly introduced shortboards encouraged surfers to ride more challenging breaks. The Malibu surf remained just as crowded (and locals like Allen Sarlo continued to ride impressively), but tuberiding had become the ultimate surfing maneuver, and the focus changed to hollow-breaking waves like Pipeline in Hawaii. The Malibu experience was further diminished when it was learned in 1969 that up-canyon runoff had fouled Malibu Lagoon with sewage and waste. The Surfrider Foundation environmental group was formed in 1984 as a response to Malibu's ongoing environmental problems.
The Malibu Invitational, held from 1962 to 1968, was the first major surfing tournament staged at Malibu; subsequent events included the 1973 United States Surfing Championships, the 1975 Hang Ten Women's Championships (mainland America's first women's pro surfing event), the 1979 Sunkist Pro, the 1981 U.S. Pro (the first men's division world circuit event in California), the 1994 World Longboard Championships, and the 2006 Rip Curl Malibu Pro.
Malibu has been featured in more than 100 surf movies, videos, and documentaries over the years, including Search for Surf (1958), Cavalcade of Surf (1962), Strictly Hot (1964), The Endless Summer (1966), Cosmic Children (1970), Going Surfin' (1973), Follow the Sun (1983), Legends of Malibu (1987), Great Waves (1998), Super Slide (1999), One California Day (2007), and Mind Over Malibu (2010).
Big Wednesday, the Warner Brothers' box-office bomb in 1978 that later became a video cult favorite, was cowritten by Malibu surfer Denny Aaberg, and is a lightly fictionalized account of Malibu in the '60s.
An exhibit on the history of Malibu surfing, including 40 vintage surfboards used at the famous break, was presented by the Santa Monica Heritage Museum in 1993. Malibu local and surfshop owner Jefferson Wagner, better known as "Zuma Jay" was elected mayor of Malibu in 2009. In 2010, Malibu was declared the first World Surfing Reserve.
Top longboarders at Malibu in the '10s include Jimmy Gamboa, Kassia Meador, and Chad Marshall.