Santa Cruz, California, joined its So Cal counterpart Malibu and two other world-class surf towns, Ericeria, Portugal, and Manly Beach, Australia, this week to become the fourth World Surfing Reserve (WSR). The designation signifies a local and globally-backed commitment to protect the breaks, beaches and the city itself from environmental threats to the marine habitat, surf culture or quality of the waves. (Surfer and environmentalist Kyle Thiermann defines a few of these threats as “Walmarts on the beach, poop in the water, and dot-com yuppies blocking beach access.”)
"The Santa Cruz World Surfing Reserve implicitly underscores the importance of our waves and coastline," Pat O'Neill, President and CEO of O'Neill Wetsuits, said at the dedication. "It provides additional worldwide recognition to what we have known and cherished; that Santa Cruz is a unique special place worth protecting for our families and future generations."
The Santa Cruz reserve stretches seven miles, from Natural Bridges State Park east to the Opal Cliffs, and is home to 23 consistent surf breaks, including the iconic Steamer Lane and Pleasure Point. According to Santa Cruz officials and the reserve's organizers, the reserve boasts a coastline for surfers of all skill levels; a unique and robust coastal ecosystem that’s home to dolphins, sea lions, several species of shark and whale along with hundreds of other plants and animals; and a commitment to surf culture (the modern wetsuit was created in the 1960s and developed by surfer and resident Jack O’Neill).
The city has a longstanding surf-culture history, starting in 1885 when three Hawaiian princes milled surfboards from local redwood and rode waves for the first time in North America. Since then, Santa Cruz has cherished its reputation as the West Coast “birthplace” of the sport.