There are few things more sacred to surfers than our waves. We recognise them at a glance; spend hundreds of hours seeking them out and thousands of hours learning their moods, then put just as much energy into keeping them secret and “protecting” them from overcrowding and ruin.
But often we get so focused on hoarding our waves from other surfers that we forget who the real enemies are. As much as our fellow wave riders might crowd our playgrounds, at the end of the day they are doing so because they appreciate them and understand their value.
The non-surfing world, on the other hand, tends to think that waves are a dime a dozen, and that there is nothing wrong with wiping a few off the map—especially when big-dollar businesses are involved.
For every surf spot that locals save or protected surf reserve that Save the Waves establishes, there are just as many spots out there that used to break, but are now lost to history. Here are a few that we miss the most.
Sebastian Inlet’s First Peak
One of the East Coast’s best waves for more than three decades, Sebastian Inlet’s First Peak was a powerful, wedging right-hander that offered up barrels and ramps and played a major role in shaping high-performance surfing on the East Coast. World champions such as Kelly Slater, Lisa Anderson, and CJ Hobgood were all groomed on the heaving wedges created by the stone wall on the south side of the beach. But rehabilitation to the wall in the early 2000s (including new pilings in front of the jetty) intended to stop beach erosion and keep the nearby boat channel from filling up with sand had the unintended effect of interfering with the wave’s wedging action, and First Peak was ruined practically overnight.
While there has been recent talk about trying to restore First Peak to its former glory, including an ambitious initiative called the First Peak Project, as of now, the East Coast’s most effective world champion training ground remains a shadow of its former self.
When it comes to Mexican beach breaks, Puerto Escondido is the name that everyone knows—but 40 years ago, there was another beach break that had just as much hype as the barrels at Playa Zicatella today. Petacalco was a powerful A-frame sandbar/river mouth that handled size and cranked out thick tubes on a consistent basis, until a Japanese development company built the largest steel mill in Mexico. The development included jetties, a harbour, and a huge hydroelectric dam that interfered with sand flow and effectively killed one of the country’s best and most legendary waves.
Cape St. Francis (Bruce’s Beauties)
Back in the early 1960s, Bruce’s Beauties was the wave that all others were judged against. Documented and fed to the masses in Bruce Brown’s opus The Endless Summer, the right-hand point at Cape St. Francis was actually one of surfing’s first big lies—inconsistent and nowhere as long as Brown’s creative editing suggested. That being said, it was still an epic wave on its day, a perfectly symmetrical, peeling right that was dreamy to look at and even dreamier to surf.
Unfortunately, dune stabilisation and oceanfront development interfered with sand flow, turning what was already a very rare bird into a virtually nonexistent has-been. Although Bruce’s Beauties can still break on the perfect swell with the perfect angle and a super low tide, it’s nothing like it used to be—which is a shame, since it’s pretty much the wave that started the whole surf travel obsession to begin with.
Killer Dana, California
Once considered one of southern California’s preeminent point breaks, Killer Dana was a long, symmetrical righthander that broke off the coast of Dana Point. When plans were drawn up in the 1960s to create Dana Point Harbor in the middle of the break, surfing was still in its infant stages, and the economic value of waves was decades away from being fully comprehended.
Local surfers could do little but stand by and watch as their beloved Killer Dana was killed, never to be seen again, except in the occasional black-and-white film clip. Today, all that remains is the shorter, softer, less-perfect Doheny.
Good news, there are plenty of waves across the west coast. Spot guide to California, HERE.
La Barre, France
La Barre was France’s Killer Dana. An offshore peak that its hey day was one of the heaviest on offer in Europe, the beach break was frequented by a loyal crew of local chargers, but also attracted world-class talent who came to test themselves on its solid walls.
That is, until the local government decided to put in a breakwater in the early 1970s. The result, like so many other breakwaters, was a dumbing down of the sandbar, from a juicy, powerful swell magnet to something much less exciting.
Spot guide to France, HERE.
Baja is full of dozens of mythical waves, but for those in the know, none holds the mystique of the reefbreak called Harry’s. The Long brothers kept Harry’s a closely guarded secret for years, which was an impressive feat considering it was only a couple hours south of San Diego, and a couple miles away from Salsipuedes, a Northern Baja staple.
But when Shell-Sempra announced plans to build a natural gas terminal directly in the break, Greg and Rusty knew they had to expose the wave and try to bring in the help of big guns like Save the Waves and The Surfrider Foundation. Unfortunately, all attempts to stop the development were futile. The terminal went in, and Harry’s was essentially cemented over, taking with it what the Longs considered to be one of the best slabs in North America.
A guide to surfing Mexico, HERE.
Ponta Delgada, Madeira
The case of Ponta Delgada, a dreamy left-hander on the Portuguese Island of Madeira, is as ironic as they come. The local government decided to build a salt-water swimming pool on the shore in front of the wave to help bolster tourism, and then put in a jetty to protect the pool from the ocean.
The result? A natural salt-water playground destroyed so that a man-made one could exist, and a major drop in tourism when the region’s best wave died. It doesn't get much worse than that.
La Jolla, Mexico
After a number of years of subpar sand banks caused by the aforementioned development, recent flooding washed out the jetty that ruined “La Jolla” and allowed the natural sand flow to resume. Although the wave isn’t completely back to its former glory, it is a lot better than it was a couple of years ago—good enough that the WSL has decided to return this summer for another world tour event, 15 years after the original Search event that exposed the wave to the world.
When to go, HERE.