Riding the Waves and Living the Dream: Malibu's Surfing Culture Unveiled

Riding the Waves and Living the Dream: Malibu's Surfing Culture Unveiled

  • Sandro Dazzan
  • 10/23/23

Around the world, there’s perhaps no locale with a deeper connection to surfing and surfer culture than Malibu, California. Even after the surfing revolution in the ‘50s and ‘60s, incorporating new surf styles pioneered by athletes, Malibu has remained an epicenter of the world of surfing up to the present day.
There’s so much more to know about Malibu’s role as the birthplace of modern surfing than first meets the eye. The history of this sport is engrained in nearly every corner of Malibu life, from the food to the architecture to the beaches themselves. So, let’s take a closer look at what makes Malibu beach surfing such a special tradition.

Surfing in Malibu: where it all started

There’s no question that surf culture has always been oriented toward the future and innovation, as athletes and enthusiasts strive to experiment with new surf styles and equipment. The history of the sport is just as important to track if one is going to understand just how big a role Malibu played in the evolution of surfing.
As the legend goes, it all started around 1926 when the swim club lifeguard Tom Blake and his friend Sam Reid first set out on Surfrider Beach with their early versions of the surfboard inherited from Hawaiian culture. At that time, Malibu was a minuscule beachside community with a 20-mile stretch of land owned by the Rindge family, powerful landowners with deep connections to early Hollywood stars and business leaders.
By the 1930s, the Rindges opted to sell out pristine one-mile lots to L.A. homeowners in search of a wild ocean view. Once surfers discovered this beach with the help of pioneers like Blake and Reid (thanks, in no small part, to a few surfer-friendly residents who allowed them to explore the waves), there was no turning back. California surf culture had broken through and found its true home in Malibu.

The Malibu surfing revolution: finding paradise on the waves

During the post-war period, Malibu was still considered by many LA residents to be a somewhat small and rough-and-tumble community far from the movie-making business. It would take a dramatic reshuffling of opinions before the movers and shakers of Hollywood would take this corner of Southern California as a serious place to call home. This is where the surfers come into the equation.
Why was surf culture such a catalyst for change in Malibu? There are several reasons. For one, technological advancements in the late ‘40s and ‘50s allowed surfers to build lighter, stronger boards that were easier to transport further outside the high population centers of Hollywood.
Not only that, but innovators in the sport — like Miki Dora, Mike Nader, and Billy Al “Moondoggie” Bengston — had the style and confidence to attract a new generation of surfers to drive out to Malibu alone or in large groups, launching the careers of hundreds of residents.
As more surfers were able to move away from downtown Los Angeles to pursue surfing professionally in the ‘60s and ‘70s, the Malibu economy thrived, encouraging a boom in home construction, dining spots, and natural preserves. Surfers’ love for the environment helped to convert many Malibu homeowners to the causes of beach and animal habitat conservation efforts.

The rise of legendary surf spots in Malibu

Surfing has been a worldwide phenomenon for decades, being televised around the world for a fanbase of millions. Yet, the sport remains somewhat exclusive for many people because of one clear reason: you need access to a beach. That’s not even the whole story. Since not every beach is equally suitable for surfing, only the best oceanside beaches are able to support athletes and weekend surfers on a serious scale. Malibu is one such beach.
Early on, Malibu carved out a space for itself in the eyes of surfers as a rare example of a paradise for ocean surfing. Malibu has an ideal water temperature, a perfect climate, and an expansive white sand beach that can hold thousands of beachgoers at once. Altogether, those three factors have made a few of Malibu’s most cherished beaches almost holy sites for surfers around the world. Today, the most popular beaches for surfing in Malibu are:

  • Zuma Beach: a three-mile stretch of sand that is considered by many to be the site for the heaviest beach breaks in all of Southern California.

  • Topanga Beach: one of Malibu’s most consistent surf locations and home to a rare rocky sand mixture that makes it more challenging for beginner surfers.

  • Surfrider Beach: the king of surf spots in Malibu to this day. It has remained the first beach that locals and visitors flock to if they want to experience an ideal day on the waves despite the large crowds and wide range of breaks available daily.

  • Leo Carillo: the backdrop to numerous Hollywood surf destinations. This small cove is as picturesque as they come, with several top-quality restaurants and bars nearby.

What makes Malibu surf culture so special?

According to legendary Malibu surfer Kathy Kohner Zuckerman (aka “Gidget”), there is no better place to trace the history of longboard surfing and surf culture than in Malibu. Zuckerman’s hair-raising experiences in the early days of Malibu beach surfing in the ‘60s eventually spawned the film Gidget, a movie that almost single-handedly helped to popularize the sport across the state.
Today, Malibu's surf culture is stronger than ever. Surfrider Beach was even named the very first World Surfing Reserve in 2010 in an act that has echoed around the globe, leading to beach conservation efforts in dozens of countries. Despite the fact that the beaches in Malibu are more crowded than ever, this coastal city continues to be a beacon for tourism and environmentalism thanks to the enormous influence of the sport.

Get in touch with a local real estate agent today

If you’d like to learn more about Malibu beach surfing or the incredible amenities of this legendary SoCal city, reach out today! Whether you’re buying or selling luxury real estate in the area, trusted agent Sandro Dazzan is here to guide you. With over $2.5 billion in closed sales backing his illustrious career, Sandro is ranked the top agent in Malibu and has the skills and savvy to help you achieve results. Get started today with Sandro Dazzan by your side.

*Header photo courtesy of Unsplash

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