An Ode to Blackies (and the best surf of my life)
Blackies is a stretch of beach just north of the Newport Pier, and it gets its name from a little boardwalk bar that has been there since 1952. It is the hub of traditional longboarding and longboard culture for this region (Newport Beach and Costa Mesa).
The parking lot is as much a part of the culture as the lineup is. No matter how good the waves are on any given day, there are still a pack of folks in the parking lot waiting for the tide to change or the crowd to thin out, or maybe just embracing their role as a wallflower.
I did much of my surfing during my teens and twenties at Blackies, and have had some of the best waves of my life there.
Blackies is the go-to spot when the tide is too high and everywhere else is swamped out. This is not a secret, in the Winter time when there is some West swell in the water, but a morning high tide of 5 feet, you can pretty much count on every surfer in town—shortboarders and longboarders alike–to be jockeying for waves between the Newport Pier and 28th street jetty.
The Best Surf of my Life:
However, one of the most vividly memorable surfs of my life took place on a drained out afternoon, in 2010. The tide was soooooo low. Like the ocean was receding. But there was no wind at all, and I was in my early 20's, so naturally I went down to take a look at the surf.
The only guys in the parking lot that day were a friend of mine, Dave Ludwig, a guy I know from the lineup named Ford Menzies, and another fellow who's name I didn't know but would casually greet when I saw him.
The reason I remember who was in the parking lot that day, is because all of a sudden things just clicked on—and by things I mean shockingly great waves started rolling through, and there was no one out. Why would there be? It was a week-day afternoon and it was a negative low tide.
We looked at each other in disbelief and scrambled to get into our wetsuits. For the next, I don't know, hour? two hours? My concept of time gets really fuzzy here... the 4 of us took turns on some of the honest-to-goodness best waves I've ever surfed in my life. It was one of those magical days where you ride a wave to the beach, turn around, paddle back out, and scratch right into another one. With only 4 of us in the lineup, there were more than enough waves to go around. It was like a Thanksgiving feast for 4 people to share—we couldn't consume all the goodness that was presented before us.
I want to paint a picture of the kind of scene that day, but surfing has always struck me as one of the most difficult subjects to write about. It's such an intensely personal experience, based so much on these micro-moments and feelings that to try to recount them results in all the typical tropes about surfers and surfing. See: "And then I hit the lip like WHOOPAH!"
The late afternoon sun was glowing gold and green through the head-high waves, and these perfectly picturesque A-frames kept coming through. I was riding a 9'7 Surf Thump that Griffin had shaped for me. Each wave, I would do the same thing: scratch into the wave early, and immediately stall on the tail for a lined-up, back-lit barrel on the takeoff. ...We're by no means talking about stand-up tubes, but on a log, if you stall hard you can get nice little coverups, and then allllll that glide helps you accelerate back up to speed to get back ahead of the section.
Photo isn't from the day described, but is somewhat representative of my described approach:
This went on, and on, and on... the four of us trading waves and remarking about how delightfully unexpected this was. I knew in the moment I would remember this surf for a very long time.
It was one of those magical surf sessions that was as unexpected as it was amazing. Like all great combinations of swell, wind, and tide... all great things must come to an end. Eventually the conditions let off, and we dragged our tired bones back to the parking lot.
That story is more the exception than the rule, when it comes to this spot. Typically Blackies is a late morning, Winter spot. It's fairly reliable, and so is the crowd. If you want somewhere that you can pull up and watch a whole spectrum of surfing abilities in one Where's Waldo-esque scene, Blackies is as good a bet as any.
The Lumberjack model was our first crack at a beach-break noserider, and is/was heavily influenced by the waves at Blackies. It's the wave we cut our teeth on and that particular longboard is a direct result of our many years there.
If you find yourself passing through Newport, from October to March, carve out the time to join the crowds at the best longboard spot we've got to offer—Blackies by the Sea.
Fellow Blackies appreciators, show your love for your surf spot with Slightly Choppy's Surf Flags.