Surf Legend Chuck Patterson Picks His Favorite Breaks in California
Plus, his best advice for all you paddle-happy newcomers
“I couldn’t get out of the water — I had to surf.” That’s how legendary action sports athlete Chuck Patterson describes his relationship to the waves, a connection that formed at the early age of 12. As the son of a professional windsurfer, Patterson grew up spending a lot of time battling the wind, water and snow. His athletic mother taught him to ski when he was two or three years old, and that sense of balance and speed stuck with him across other activities like snowboarding, kiteboarding and, of course, surfing.
Though he grew up in the Bay Area, Patterson’s family was based in Piedmont, Oakland, so he wasn’t right on the water as a kid. It was a fateful trip to Maui that led to his first real encounter with the waves. The rest, as they say, is history.
“Back when we were growing up, my mom, Bitsy Patterson, was super into windsurfing and competing,” Patterson tells InsideHook. “We went to Maui, and that’s when I got my first taste of the surf. I borrowed a boogie board and I never looked back. Two weeks after we came home, I bought a surfboard in San Francisco. I had to do it. It just felt right and meshed with what I was into…it avalanched from there.”
“Avalanched” is almost too gentle a term to describe Patterson’s subsequent career as a multi-sport athlete who competes in skiing, snowboarding, big-wave surfing, standup paddleboarding, windsurfing, foil surfing and speed flying, just to name a few. His status as a stuntman and daredevil over the years has helped Patterson rack up over 50K followers on Instagram, where he posts plenty of photos, videos and updates about his adventurous lifestyle. Sp who better to reflect on some of the best surfing sports in California than this jack of all action sports? Because as much as the snow beckons to him, at his core, the call to ride the waves is the strongest.
InsideHook: Since you participate in so many different sports, is there something that separates surfing from everything else?
Chuck Patterson: It kind of has the same feeling as skiing on a powder day or skateboarding. It just has that moment when you’re in Mother Nature’s playground, and it’s you challenging yourself against what Mother Nature’s pushing at you. I found that I really love that challenge. As far as paddling out, you had to earn it. The better I got and the hungrier I got, the more I wanted to make it out. The more work I put into it, the better I got, and the better the ride was. Even to this day, it’s still that same feeling.
What is your favorite place to surf in California?
When I was growing up in Northern California, Ocean Beach was my staple. It’s definitely one of the best. I spent many years when I was growing up surfing Fort Point underneath the Golden Gate Bridge — that was one of my favorite waves. Surfing Ocean Beach led me to Santa Cruz and exploring Mavericks and stuff. In Southern California, living in the San Clemente area, everything there in San Clemente: Trestles, San Onofre.
Why is Mavericks such an important spot for surfing in the Bay Area?
Mavericks is definitely a very, very special and infamous break. I got to know [Mavericks icon] Jeff Clark really well, back in the day, and just the whole story — where you have someone like that, who had been surfing it for so long by himself, and was pleading and begging to get people to come out. Then, finally, a couple of really good athletes and surfers from Santa Cruz came out, and it started to blow up. Now, it’s world renowned as one of the best big-wave breaks that we have on the West Coast.
It’s a pretty heavy break. Back in the day, we had a good crew. I wasn’t surfing it every day — I would come on big swells — but for most of the Santa Cruz regulars and a good amount of the Ocean Beach regulars, that was their main thing. Anytime there was any swell where Ocean Beach was closing out or way too big, Mavericks was firing. If you want to really push it, Mavericks is the place to get the ride of your life.
What’s the best advice for someone who is just getting into surfing or is a beginner?
Get a lesson. Because that just takes care of all the questions that you may have, or that you don’t think you would have. It allows each person to get that idea of how to stand up on a surfboard, how to paddle out, and it really defines and lays out the mechanics of how surfing works. There are so many people I’ve seen that don’t do lessons, they go out and they watch people, and then they just sit in the line up and they never get a wave.
I highly suggest to anyone who wants to get into it, seek out a good school or get some recommendations through friends and find a good surf school. Get a lesson for your first time. And also, you don’t need to buy brand new. I would get something used or get a soft top at the beginning. Then, when you are really into it, spend your money because you know what you want to get.
What gear do you regularly use for surfing?
If I’m surfing in colder water, a wetsuit. I always wear sunblock on my face. Sometimes I wear a hat because of the sun, especially as I’ve gotten older, that’s actually helped a lot, especially during sunset sessions. That’s about it, I try to keep it simple.
What’s your favorite time of day or year to go surfing in Northern California?
Early morning was always my favorite. It was always glassy. Although, I love those fall sunset evenings, where you didn’t quite get the big storms yet, and you’d have some of the south swell still filling in. Fall sunset sessions were and definitely still are my favorites.
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