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Palos Verdes


Affluent hill-covered peninsula located in southwest Los Angeles County; home to more than a dozen surf breaks, including Palos Verdes Cove and Lunada Bay.

The cliff-lined Cove, with its four distinct reefbreaks, was first ridden in 1929, and quickly became a favorite among prewar American surfers like Hoppy Swarts, Doc Ball, Bud Morrissey, and Tulie Clark. The Cove was sometimes called "California's Little Waikiki" for its easy-rolling waves and dramatic cliffs that faintly resembled Diamond Head in Hawaii. Surfers of all abilities rode the Channel, an easy-breaking wave in the middle of the Cove; during bigger swells, a few riders moved either to Ski Jump, a right-breaking wave to the north, or Indicator, a left-breaking wave to the south.

A visit to the Cove (also known as Paddleboard Cove) was often an all-day affair, as the surfer had to shoulder his 45-pound wooden plank board down a half-mile dirt trail from the road to the beach. The carefree California surfing idyll was in part created on the beach at the Cove, as surfers caught abalone and lobster in the nearshore waters, and cooked over open fires on the beach, while drinking jug wine and playing ukuleles. The Palos Verdes Surfing Club, the second club of its kind in California, was formed in 1935 by Cove riders Doc Ball and Adolph Bayer. Nearly a quarter of Ball's California Surfriders photo book, published in 1946, is dedicated to the Cove.

Lunada Bay, located on the northwest tip of the Palos Verdes Peninsula, less than two miles south of the Cove, gained notoriety in late 1962 after California-born big-wave rider Greg Noll tackled some 18-footers there that he later compared to Hawaii's Waimea Bay. Lunada remains Southern California's best big-wave break. It is also the state's best-known area for localism. Visiting surfers since the early 1970s have had rocks thrown at them while walking down the cliff-side Lunada trail, and returned from the water to find their car windows broken and their tires slashed—the work of local surfers, mostly the sons of millionaires, determined to keep their break free of outsiders. Palos Verdes surfer Peter McCollum was arrested in 1996 on misdemeanor assault charges after threatening and pushing a non-local surfer who'd arrived at Lunada with a camera crew from a cable station. The 34-year-old McCollum was convicted, fined $15,000, and given two years' probation. 

In The Tribes of Palos Verdes, Joy Nicholson's 1997 novel about the corruption of wealth and privilege and the redemptive power of surfing, the 14-year-old narrator describes a conversation at the local tennis club between her mother, a newcomer, and a group of longtime club members. "'The surfers. They destroy the ice plant. They drag their boards across the ice plant and ruin everything. What's wrong with this place? How come the children roam around in packs?' This is my mother's first faux pas. The ladies of PV don't want to hear complaints about their children. The drinking, the smoking, the violence. No one wants to think about that." Eugene Burdick's 1956 novel The Ninth Wave also had bleak and violent surf culture scenes drawn from Palos Verdes. 

In "Top Five Places in LA to get Punched Out in the Surf," a 2010 article on LASurfSpots.com, Lunada Bay was #1, and Indicator (Palos Verdes Cove) was runner-up.