Epic: The Dawn of Expedition Surfing

Dec 1, 2003
Outside Magazine

All aboard! Pro surfer Keith Malloy, west of Gaviota, California    Photo: Branden Aroyan

Expedition: Surfing the closed coast
Team: Ross Garrett, Keith Malloy, Dan Malloy
Location: Central California
Objective: Surf 40 miles of off-limits coastline
Duration: Three days

FOR SURFERS, the stretch of empty central California coastline beginning some 40 miles south of San Luis Obispo at Surf Beach and ending 40 miles farther south at Gaviota State Park is forbidden fruit—home to some of the state's best waves but almost entirely off-limits. The only legal beach access is at Jalama Beach County Park, sandwiched between the 98,500-acre Vandenberg Air Force Base and two private ranches. But last summer, former Surfer editor Ross Garrett, 25, of Del Mar, along with Keith Malloy, 29, and his brother Dan, 25, two pro surfers from Ojai, invented a new kind of expedition and rode dozens of breaks along the prohibited beaches and cliffs. Working with Palos Verdes board shaper Joe Bark, they designed 12.5-foot hybrid boards that combined the round rails and thickness of a traditional paddleboard with the rocker and large fin needed for surfing head-high waves. On the decks they lashed drybags loaded with a VHF radio, GPS, food, hydration packs, hats, goggles, and sunscreen. On July 14 they launched into a soupy fog from Surf Beach, heading south toward Point Conception—known as "the Cape Horn of the Pacific" for its rocky headlands and northwesterly gales.

They paddled eight to 12 hours a day, staying within two miles of shore while hunting for rideable surf. "We weren't just riding waves to cover distance south, although we did that, too," says Dan. "We'd surf an hour or two, and then move on." They camped the first night at Jalama, where they had stashed supplies, and spent the second night at 65-year-old Patagonia founder Yvon Chouinard's home on Hollister Ranch.

Chances are, you won't ever find the hybrid boards at your local surf shop. But for Garrett and the Malloys—plus a handful of adventurers likely to follow—the crafts have opened a new realm of possibilities. "Some of the best stretches of the coastline in California are off-limits," says Garrett. "The minute we got out of the water, we looked at the map and said, "OK, where can we do this next?' "

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