SURF'S UP in San Diego

Every morning before sunrise, dedicated surfers head for the beach. Since the 1920s, San Diego surfers have enjoyed “catching a wave” whatever the weather.

In 1911, a Hawaiian named Duke Kahanamoku introduced wave riding to Californians. Today “The Duke” is considered the founder of modern surfing. Inspired San Diegans began surf clubs at Pacific and Mission Beaches, near Mission Bay.

San Diego's earliest surf star was the daredevil Faye Fraser. She wowed Pacific Beach onlookers in 1925 by dangerously surfing around the pilings that held Crystal Pier above water. No one in town had “shot the pier” before, and few have since!

In 1941, World War II began. Many local surfers joined the Navy. Fortunately, one wave rider, Bob Simmons, worked on the home front. He surfed powerful Windansea Beach in La Jolla, a northern neighborhood. Simmons tinkered with surfboards, adding a skeg (a small tail fin) on the bottom that helps riders make easier turns. He also began making surfboards out of balsa covered with fiberglass (a material created during the war). Boards became lighter and faster.

In the 1960s, movies and “surfer rock” bands such as the Beach Boys popularized the sport. Many surfers bought woodies (wood-paneled, antique station wagons) and drove to beaches like Windansea, Pacific, and San Onofre. San Diego's beaches became famous “surfin' surfari” stops. They still attract thousands of surfers each year.


A tropical American tree with soft, very light wood that is used to make rafts and model airplanes.

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  1. What kind of energy do ocean waves carry?
  2. Do you think a surfer would prefer higher or lower frequency waves? Why?
  3. What do you think happens to the energy in a wave when the wave crashes on the shore?
  4. Some scientists are inventing devices that capture the energy of ocean waves. Why might ocean waves be a good source of energy?