Newport Beach is probably one of the most famous beach areas in Southern California ranking right up there with Malibu, Venice, and (thanks to that horrible faux-reality show) Laguna Beach. From a surf standpoint Newport is a veritable smorgasbord of spots packed into a small section of coastline. In Newport it is possible to surf waves that vary in quality, size, and power and are so close together that they can be reached by a short ride on the beach cruiser.
Newport Beach is located just to the south of Huntington Beach and to the north of Corona Del Mar. Most of Newport Beach is actually the northern peninsula of Newport Bay (often referred to as Newport Harbor) and protects one of the most expensive waterfront locations in Southern California.
The north end of the beach is anchored by the river mouth of the Santa Ana River, which is known as the Santa Ana River Jetties, or sometimes just the “rivermouth”. This part of the beach faces mostly to the SW and runs for about 2 miles before hitting Newport Pier. There are a series of short jetties that line up with the various Newport street names…like 56th street for example. At the end of this SW stretch of beach is a spot called Blackies which generally encompasses the area from the 28th street jetty to Newport Pier.
As you move past the pier the beach angles slightly more to the south…(S-SSW to be exact). The transition from the SW facing beach to the S facing stretch is generally referred to as Newport Point even though it is only loosely shaped like a proper “point”.
The S facing stretch of beach is a little under 3-miles long and runs from Newport Pier to the north jetty that protects the entrance to Newport Harbor. There are a number of surf/swim areas along this stretch of Newport but surf shape is generally better in the more northern areas. That being said this part of Newport Beach is home to its most famous wave “The Wedge”, which is snuggled right next to the north jetty of the harbor entrance.
Like I said above the surf in Newport is amazingly varied…when you lump it all together it sort of breaks down like this: If there is a decent swell in the water you can pretty much find a wave that will suit your abilities, equipment, or just general ocean comfort level. Unfortunately these waves are not always the easiest to pin down because parts of Newport definitely work better than others as the combination of swell direction and swell periods change.
There are really three big factors that almost always need to be accounted for in the Newport surf landscape…
1. The swell (size, direction, and period)
2. The Sand (where it is and where it isn’t)
3. Newport Submarine Canyon
Okay the first two are kind of no brainers, particularly if you have read my Ocean Science 101: How our Surf is made posts, but the 3rd point is a little more obscure and often overlooked.
There is actually a pretty deep submarine canyon just offshore of Newport Beach…in fact the end of the canyon extends to a point just a few hundred feet to the southwest of Newport Pier… and this canyon does some pretty crazy things to the surf pushing into Newport. The Newport Submarine Canyon can act like part amplifier, part traffic cop, and part deflector. I guess you could think of it sort of like a really messed up freeway interchange for swells. The combination of deep water depths close to the coast along an unevenly mixed sea-floor allow swells to shoal rapidly and dramatically, wrapping around bends in the canyon’s edges and eventually being re-routed along new trajectories as they head to the beach.
“Exactly” how the canyon is going to affect the surf depends on what sort of energy is in the water…swell direction, size, and swell-period are all super important and will greatly affect the most important question of “where will it be best” as they are mixed in different proportions.
What is funny is that a lot of Newport surfers actually have a good idea of how the canyon is going to affect the surf…they just don’t know that the canyon is doing the work. If you are a local and you know that Blackies is good on a short-period W swell, or that the point works on a short-period S swell, or 56th street works best on a long-period S-SW swell then you already know “how” the canyon influences Newport’s waves. (I will have more specific info on how the canyon affects certain spots when you get to the descriptions of the individual breaks.)
Waaaay back in 1966 Orange County lifeguards started flying the “Black Ball” flag in an effort to protect swimmers in the surf zone from dangerous (and usually unleashed) surfboards. I do believe that Newport Beach was one of the first beaches in California to use the blackball flag (but my grasp of history can be spotty sometimes).
Newport still has the infamous blackball rules. So if you see the yellow flag with the black ball in the center then it means that no hard surfboards are allowed in the water…even if you are outside of the swim zone. This is for public safety and usually the Newport Lifeguards don’t abuse their authority…in fact Newport gives their guards a bit more latitude than other beaches and the guys in the towers can keep a beach open to hard surfboards longer (as long as there isn’t a danger to swimmers).
There are a couple of areas that have full time blackball rules…or very stringent time periods when they enforce it. The first is around 40th street in the jetties, they have a full-time blackball all year that allows swimmers and bodyboarders in the water, no hard surfboards.
The other area is the Wedge. They enforce a “no floatation device” black ball (no bodyboards, skimboards, or anything…just you and your flippers) from 10am through 5pm. This is only enforced from May 1st through October 1st, which just happens to be prime south swell season.
Parking and Crowds
Parking in Newport can be a bitch most of the time…even for people that live on the peninsula. In the summer it gets even worse…it can take you forever to drive down to the end of the peninsula and back out again. The city also likes to torment visitors by cleaning streets on certain days and at certain times…so if it is suddenly easy to find a parking spot make sure to check the signs…you may be in street sweeping area. To make matters worse the Newport Parking Enforcement (aka the Newport Beach Revenue Service) are pretty on the ball…you spend even a few minutes in a no-parking zone and you will probably get nailed.
4th of July
The 4th of July in Newport is pretty sweet…though over the years it has gotten out of hand a few times so the city likes to keep a pretty tight leash on it. Usually part of Balboa Ave is blocked off to car traffic and everyone rides their beach cruisers, skateboards, roller skates, lawn chairs with wheels, dirtboards, and any other sort of people powered craft, from party to party. It is part parade, part singles scene, and at times can be total chaos. It is usually semi-kid friendly in the morning but as more and more drinking goe
s on through the day it starts to get a bit rowdy…personally I am surprised that it doesn’t get tear-gassed more often than it does.
On to the surf spots!
The surf in Newport is generally broken into 7 areas…but I have included a couple of others, Harbor Entrance and Baby Beach, which are part of the landscape but are sort of gadget waves.
Here are the areas:
Santa Ana River Jetties
Lower Newport Jetties
Lower Newport Streets: (Schoolyards, Balboa Pier, and the lettered streets)
Corona Del Mar: Baby Beach