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A Local’s Take on Surfing Malibu

California sunshine and Pacific vistas aside, there’s a reason why Malibu has long been hailed as a surfer’s paradise. A historical focal point for the sport’s major milestones and playground for virtuosos like Miki Dora and Terry Tracy, the ‘Bu has been synonymous with surfing for over half a century.

Here, waxing a board on a white-sand beach before paddling out to catch a barreling wave is as common as collecting shells and sunbathing. Fortunately for visitors, all the natural and cultural amenities that make this beach town the quintessential surfing bastion are completely accessible from Malibu Beach Inn.

In a region known for churning out surfers, Malibu local Bruce Klumph got a late start. Like many kids raised just minutes from the surf, his parents’ garage was bedecked with boards long and short — and yet the sport didn’t quite click for him until he was well on his way through high school.

“For most people who have grown up here in town, it typically comes from a young age,” explains Klumph. “Even before riding a bike or anything, these people are hopping on a surfboard. For me, it was kind of interesting that it happened later in life.”

Bruce Klumph stands on a dock in Malibu, California

Photo: Bruce Klumph

As many friends turned their interests toward football and other landlocked extracurriculars, Klumph turned back toward the waves. He began to keep an assortment of boards in the back of his truck in case he spotted a worthy swell on the way to and from class in nearby Encino.

“I was so excited,” he says. “It became about finding that thing that was more for me.”

Now, at the age of 26, Klumph’s own Malibu garage is brimming with boards spanning almost every size and style. When he’s not working as a local marine guide and paddleboard instructor, he’s chasing waves all around the world — from the North and South shores of Hawaii to Fiji, the Maldives, and Australia to Mexico and Central America’s Caribbean-facing coastline.

“I try to find that tropical water and those conditions which are tough to beat,” he says. In satisfying his daily wave fix between trips, though, he doesn’t need to venture far. With over 800 miles of surf-able coastline, California offers alluring swells from north to south — some of the most favorable rolling in consistently from Malibu’s singular 21-mile stretch.

A wave crashes in Malibu, California

Photo: Bruce Klumph

“I think that Malibu’s unique because it really offers up different waves for our short span of area that we have around here,” says Klumph.

Regarded by many as the epicenter of surf culture, Malibu contains a variety of waves suitable for every type of participant. Stretching out from a traditional point break near the 113-year-old Malibu Pier, the classic Surfrider Beach produces a long swell containing three to four peaks at a time. Beautiful and consistent, it’s considered one of the most iconic waves in the world.

On the other side of town lies Zuma Beach. Although it’s one of Malibu’s most popular family mainstays, the beach provides surfers with a large playing field that’s arguably off-the-beaten-path from the region’s more traditional hubs. Because Zuma’s waves are generated from a beach break fed by shifting underwater sands, new and diverse swells are always emerging.

“If you keep your eyes peeled and look for different little peaks, you can definitely score spots that you couldn’t score before, so funnily enough, Zuma can lie under the radar in the right tides and conditions,” Klumph says. “To have those two within 10 or 15 minutes of each other is pretty cool, because you get the best of both worlds, and you also get waves based on seasons.”

Surfer riding wave at Point Dume in Malibu, California

According to Klumph, determining the best times of year to surf just depends on what kind of conditions the wave chaser is seeking. Through the summer months, southerly facing beaches like First Point, Sunset, and Topanga produce gentle soft swells. Wintertime, on the other hand, draws larger (and sometimes unruly) swells from the north and the west.

No matter the season, Klumph can likely be found somewhere in the Malibu surf, navigating the prolific waves peeling across its surface with a variety of boards — whether it’s his 9’6” Laird stand up paddleboard, one of his traditional longboards, or the 5’10” short board crafted for him by local shaper Tim Ryan. Because Malibu’s unique shorelines provide a full spectrum of swell types, he notices fellow surfers using an equal mix of every type of board imaginable.

“You really can’t go wrong,” he says. “You’ve got everything to choose from.”

For those new to the sport, Klumph recommends finding a board that is suited to their skill level rather than something flashy. Once surfers hone their method and become familiar with the rhythm of the ocean, they can graduate to a board which further complements their riding technique.

Surfers in the line-up at Zuma Beach in Malibu, California

“The biggest thing for me is that you can be really good at surfing, but you can never really perfect it,” he says. “There’s always something that you can work on, whether it be putting yourself in bigger surf or pushing yourself to try a new maneuver. There’s always something new.”

Regardless of where people put their boards into the water, Klumph also advocates for “working from the bottom,” which is surfer etiquette for respecting the lineup and staying out of others’ ways. Waiting and watching fellow riders can be an entertainment in itself; everyone’s style is different.

“Surfing really gives you a unique experience each and every time because it’s your way of expressing yourself on the water,” he says. “Everyone’s so different in their style and their form and what they do. It’s a great way to get exercise and to connect with the ocean, and to be able to be out there in the sunshine getting a suntan and riding a wave. It doesn’t get much better than that.”

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