Huntington Beach, or HB, (or “Surf City USA” if you listen to the lame tourist board marketing hacks) is located along the North Orange County coastline. It stretches almost 8 miles from the Bolsa Chica State Park in the North down to the Santa Ana River Mouth in the South.
In general HB has the most consistent surf in North OC and, in my experience, usually ranks in the top 3 most consistent areas in all of Orange County. (#1 being Trestles, and #2-4 being HB, Newport, and Salt Creek).
A lot of its consistency is due to location on the coast and the length of the beach. HB is lucky enough to cover such a large area that you get a natural “bend” in the beach shape as you move north…so the south end of the beach is actually more exposed to SW swells and the north end of the beach is slightly more west facing. This combination of exposure means that HB can pick up almost any swell…from a very SE direction all the way up to a steep NW swell direction.
Another reason HB keeps the hits coming is that it can pick up the long-period NW swell (290-295+) that most other OC beaches just aren’t exposed to. HB is positioned well enough that the long-period energy hits a few areas of shallow water out past some of the nearshore islands and starts to refract back towards the coast. This refraction eventually focuses the NW swell through the gap between Catalina Island and Palos Verdes and pushes it right into the HB Cliffs area.
HB would probably be the most consistent spot in OC if it weren’t for 2 big issues: Catalina and San Clemente Islands. These islands actually block a ton of SW energy that otherwise would have made it to HB. As the swell angle starts to go more westerly (above 210-degrees) the island blockage starts to take effect. First the north half of HB will be shadowed…then if the swell moves even more west (215-220 degrees) then the rest of HB slips into the shadow.
HB has a ton of contests throughout the year. They range from small (and kind of cool) high-school/NSSA competitions all the way up through the US Open Monstrosity that they put on every year over the summer. They usually have them at the pier (on the south side) but don’t be surprised if you find one at some random location along the beach. Oh and just to keep you guessing sometimes they will have giant volleyball, paintball, skateboard, and motorcross contests at random times…really though I just think they like to have them to screw up traffic on PCH.
Since Huntington is so large there are a lot of different types of waves…you can find a spot for every type of skill level, from beginner through expert. Some spots will even change from a beginner break to a more challenging spot as we move through the seasonal changes.
Sandbar formation and movement also plays a large role in the quality of surf. Generally the sandbars stick the usual spots (near rivers, piers, storm drains, things like that). But occasionally you get one to crop up in a less obvious area…it is sometimes worth it to hunt around…you might find one at a much less crowed section of the beach.
Generally Huntington Beach is broken down into 6 surf areas:
(Click on a surf area for more information)