First Session: Black's Beach

Matt Rode

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Updated 124d ago

Our First Session series peels back the legend on the first surfers at various famous spots from across the globe. We've already covered Teahupoo, Waimea, Anchor Point, Cloudbreak, Bali, J-Bay, Puerto Escondido, Mundaka, Hossegor, Jaws, Byron Bay, Huntington Beach, Germany, Tofino, Chicama and Malibu. Let us know in the comments if there is anywhere else you'd like us to shine a spotlight on.

One of San Diego’s most popular surf breaks, Black's Beach has been a central part of Southern California surf culture for decades. In addition to being one of the more consistent waves in the region, it is also one of the biggest, due to an offshore submarine canyon that provides constructive interference and creates the big, deep-water, wintertime peaks that Black's is famous for.

Of course, San Diego’s biggest beach break is notorious for a lot more than huge, sandy barrels. On small days, it is one of the most crowded lineups in the region, despite requiring a long hike down the cliffs for anyone who doesn’t have a gate key so they can drive down.

Forecast: Black's Beach

Black's is also one of only a handful of clothing-optional beaches in California, making it a popular destination for the nudist crowd. But Black's wasn’t always such a hive of excitement. In fact, for many years it was only accessible by friends of the Black family (for whom the beach is named)—and it wasn’t even surfed until 1959, which was relatively late for a Southern California surf spot.

Black's through the lens of Miah Klein.

Black's through the lens of Miah Klein.

The Black family bought a 250-acre parcel of land in 1940 that included the Torrey Pines cliffs and the canyon extending down to the ocean. Their plan was to raise thoroughbred horses to race at Del Mar Fairgrounds, but the horse farm didn’t prove financially successful, so the family eventually sold the land, which was later subdivided into a number of larger lots in an area that is still called La Jolla Farms today.

In the meantime, surfing had become a popular activity in California in the 1940s and 1950s, and there was a thriving surf scene in the La Jolla Shores area. But it wasn’t until 1959 that a small group of surfers, including Joe Trotter, John Light, Don Roncy, and Peter Lusic, made the trek down to Black's and discovered the wave’s potential. They returned to La Jolla Shores and told a few friends about their discovery, and the next day a larger group headed back down to surf the new wave.

From then on, Black's quickly became a staple of the La Jolla surfing experience—although it was largely a local secret until the mid-1960s. And William Black likely helped keep numbers at a minimum, as he was reported to have shot at trespassers walking down Black's Beach road with a shotgun loaded with rock salt!

© 2022 - Klein.

By the 1970s, Black's was considered Southern California’s premier big wave spot, and in the 1980s and 1990s it was regularly featured in most of the major surf magazines.

While the discovery of proper big wave bombies such as Mavs to the north and Todos Santos to the south took some of the heavy water focus off of the oversized peaks below the Torrey Pines cliffs, Black's is still considered one of the biggest beach breaks on the planet, often mentioned in the same conversations as Puerto Escondido, Ocean Beach, and even Nazare.

And while Black's might not quite measure up to those other spots when it comes to the number of XL days each year—well, it does have a bunch of naked people hanging out on the beach!

Cover shot by Billy Watts