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The minimum recommended age is 14 years

Steamer Lane

Steamer Lane

Santa Cruz - California, United States

Surf, SUP, Bodyboard

Steamer Lane or simply The Lane is the most famous spot in Santa Cruz on the coast of central California. This place has been a benchmark for board sports and has an enormous surf and skate tradition that has been developed over many years, congregating one of the biggest communities in the world around these sports. This is represented in the surroundings, a jungle of shops, university students, alternative people, bikers, hippies, skaters and surfers everywhere. During the fifties, the pioneering big wave surfers like Peter Cole, Ricky Grigg and the Van Dyke brothers caught the first waves of any magnitude at The Lane. Back then, those waves were considered some of the best to train with in preparation for the surf in Hawaii. Those guys took to the water with their wooden boards, without wetsuits as they hadn’t been invented yet, and a leash that resembled a dog collar. At the end of the fifties, Jack O’Neill moved to Santa Cruz with his family and during the sixties this legendary character marked a before and after at Steamer Lane. The water in Santa Cruz is very cold all year round and Jack revolutionised wetsuits like in no other place in the world. Following this, in no time at all, the surf community became much more numerous. The term ‘Steamer’ for the winter wetsuits came from there.

In the seventies and eighties The Lane, as the locals call it, was frequented by a group of locals and names like Robbie Waldemar, Kevin Reed, Vince Collier, Steve Colton y Richard Schmidt established a club, that was like a shelter, for anyone that was interested. For decades this place was ahead of the rest with everything related to surfing, in all of its disciplines, and especially big waves. During the nineties a new generation of surfers was forging, following the way of those pioneers. Among them were Jason 'Ratboy' Collins, Adam 'Rodent' Replogle, Ken 'Skindog' Collins, Darryl 'Flea' Virostko and Shawn 'Barney' Barron. Some of them took surfing to what were then, unthinkable limits and for example, Ratboy was on the cover of Surfer Magazine in 1994 with his Aerial Backside 360 in The Middle Peak, placing Santa Cruz at the top of the new school. On the other hand, the pioneers Grant Washburn, Richard Schmidt, Dave Schmidt, Tom Powers, Vince Collier, Richard 'Frosty' Hesson and Jeff Clark were the first to surf Maverick’s and they were like fathers to the younger generation like Peter Mel, Flea Virostko, Replogle, Ken Collins and the legend, Jay Moriarty. All overcame their expectations and some of them, like Flea and Mel, are now respected big wave riders.

Steamer Lane California

The next event to highlight was in 1987 when the first O’Neill Coldwater Classic, one of the most prestigious ASP competitions, was organised. It is said to be one of the most interesting open events of the year at The Lane. It has a special format in which it gives local surfers that possess a higher level, but for diverse circumstances aren’t professionals, the chance to shine. They are the moments when the best surfers in the world, pros and amateurs, throw themselves into the water like they are gladiators going into a Roman colosseum whilst being cheered on by thousands of spectators from the cliffs. Remember the great achievement of the local Nat Young, who at only 17 years of age won the O’Neill Coldwater Classic in 2008, and is today one of the promises of the WCT. It can be said that now, in the XXI century, Steamer Lane is the epicentre of surf in Central and Northern California. It’s easy to get to from San Francisco to San Jose on the US-101-S within an hour, going southbound, and from San Jose on the CA-17-S for half an hour until you reach Santa Cruz. When you arrive, there are two main parking lots along West Cliff Drive, in front of The Point and at the Mark Abbott Memorial Lighthouse. It has good facilities with toilets, showers and all kinds of services. You just have to bear in mind that there may be days when you have to look for somewhere else to park nearby as these lots get full.


Steamer Lane is well-positioned and receives any swell that comes from the northwest or southwest of the Pacific Ocean. All of the peaks are positioned between the Cowels cliffs and the lighthouse and provide good surf throughout the year. Thanks to the configuration of the coastline and the protection it has from the prevailing NW winds, the area is transformed into a playground centred around the four main peaks, The Point, The Slot, The Middle and Indicators. The Point is an exposed reef break which is further out. It’s where the more experienced surfers go. It works better with SW swell and NE wind. The right is long, sometimes hollow, and it breaks better with a rising mid tide or there are some lefts at low tide. Sometimes it’s good to know so that you can link up to The Slot.

The Slot is the popular and protected right that runs very near to the cliff. It works with NW swell, 3 to 4 feet and with an ebb tide, but obviously many locals know this so it could be busy. In any case it’s a good place, especially when the tide is rising and the other peaks are working well. Many people enter by jumping in from the rocks but it isn’t really recommended. The Middle is a powerful but very rideable A-frame in the middle of the bay. Be aware that the take off zone varies depending on how the sets come in. The right is long and manoeuvrable whereas the left is hollower and has an incredible bowl. It works when the tide rises to 5 or 6 feet, being best with a rising mid tide. If it gets to 8 or 10 feet, it becomes a big wave spot so take care in these conditions that you don’t get caught on the inside, with luck it will leave you somewhere in The Spot or The Point. It’s a good place to test your limits with big waves except maybe with the waves that sometimes reach 15 feet which aren’t within everyone’s reach. 

Indicators is adjacent to The Middle and is a good quality peak that works well with a solid WNW swell and 4 to 6 feet. With good conditions this peak becomes a world class wave and on some days it has been possible to link the rights from The Point, passing through The Middle and Indicators, this means waves of more than 200 metres that can reach all the way to Cowells Cove, the last peak which is near to the pier where you’ll find children and learners. One thing to keep in mind is that it’s normally difficult to stay in place at the Indicators peak because of the strong current. Finally, remember that Santa Cruz's climate is cool in the winter and mild in the summer but the water is cold all year round so an appropriate wetsuit is fundamental. 
Optimal Conditions
  • Wave
    Rights and lefts
  • Wind
  • Tide
  • Swell
    NW - W - SW
  • Bottom
  • Size
    2 to 18 ft
  • Time of year
    All year round
Suggested Spots
  • 368 km from Steamer Lane Santa Barbara - California, United States
  • 444 km from Steamer Lane Los Angeles - Southern California, United States
  • 566 km from Steamer Lane Orange County - California, United States
  • 2673 km from Steamer Lane Colima - Pacific Coast Mexico, Mexico