History-rich California surf break located in the wealthy San Diego beach town of La Jolla. A wave-amplifying offshore canyon and a broad swell window both help to make Windansea one of America's most dependable surf spots, ridable all year from two to 12 foot.
Windansea breaks left and right over a flat rock reef, portions of which are often covered in sand; north swells make for better rights, south swells produce long lefts; medium and low tides are best. Waves here are often shifty, hard to read, thick-based, and sloped; hollow sections will pop up on occasion. Kelp beds just outside of the break smooth out the chop from onshore winds. Consistency aside, Windansea itself isn't thought of as a great California surf break, like Malibu or Rincon. Nearby spots, just as mercurial as Windansea, include Big Rock, Simmons, and Bird Rock.
While nearby sand-bottom waves were surfed as far back as the late 1920s, Windansea itself wasn't ridden until New York-born surf pioneer Woody Brown tried it out in 1937; La Jolla natives Don Okey and Townsend Cromwell followed the next day, and were soon joined by Woody Ekstrom, Dorian Paskowitz, John Elwell, and others. (Originally known as Neptune Beach, the break was renamed Windansea in the '40s after a nearby beachfront resort hotel.) A palm-frond beach shack was erected on the sandstone cliffs in front of the break for the first time in 1946, and "the Shack" eventually became a surf world icon.
By the mid-'50s, Windansea surfers had earned a reputation for being fearless and talented in the water, rude and funny on the beach, and often hostile to visitors. As seen in Greg Noll's 1959 movie Search for Surf, a group of Windansea surfers wearing Third Reich army uniforms and carrying a Nazi flag sledded down an underground storm drain that let out on the beach just south of the break. The Windansea surf earned special notoriety in 1954, when boardmaker Bob Simmons died there during an eight-foot swell.
A number of longboard-era Windansea locals made their mark outside of the area, including shapers Pat Curren, Mike Diffenderfer, and Carl Ekstrom, ace switchfooter Butch Van Artsdalen, and Endless Summer star Mike Hynson. Early Windassea alum Buzzy Bent cofounded the Chart House restaurant chain.
Windansea's cultural magnetism was strongest in the 1960s; artist Andy Warhol filmed San Diego Surf here in 1967, one year after New Journalism originator Tom Wolfe published his 7,000-word "Pump House Gang" essay, which described the local surf scene. The 1963-formed Windansea Surf Club—with a membership that included surf world heavyweights such as Hynson, Van Artsdalen, Joey Cabell, and Skip Frye—carried on the area's surfing tradition in a slightly more methodical manner, as they won contests and took high-profile booze-soaked road trips.
Windansea surfers of the '70s seemed mostly interested in harassing nonlocals; freckle-faced local Chris O'Rourke nonetheless emerged as a world-class talent, and part-time local Debbie Beacham went on to win the 1982 world pro tour title. Other well-known surfers to emerge from the Windansea area include MTV personality and former pro surfer Peter King, Longboard magazine editor Devon Howard, longboard world champion Joel Tudor, big-wave charger Derek Dunfee, surfer-writer Richard Kenvin, and surf-craft-experimentalist Ryan Burch.
Windansea was featured in John "Doc" Ball's seminal photo book California Surfriders (1946), and in 2000 the break was the subject of a 36-page feature in the Surfer's Journal. The San Diego Historical Site Board added the Windansea shack to its list of registered sites in 1998; a Los Angeles Times article noted that the shack had been used for surfer weddings, baptisms, christenings, and funerals.
Windansea has also been featured in dozens of surf movies and videos, including Barefoot Adventure (1960), Cavalcade of Surf (1962), Blazing Longboards (1994), Super Slide (2000), and Last Hope (2009). "Malibu and Windansea: Parallel Surf Societies" was the title of a 1990 exhibit staged by the California Surf Museum in nearby Pacific Beach.