Big Sur


The last time I drove this section of Hwy 1, I was 17 and on my way to UC Santa Cruz for a summer of unsupervised antics education.  That’s where I met Tom, who would later inspire me to buy my first surfboard.  That was twenty years ago, which is hard to believe.

This trip would be shorter (4 days) and a throwback to the carefree days of The Surf Trip.  When properly executed, The Surf Trip is an epic adventure hallmarked by spontaneity, discovery, and culinary disgust.  Good surf is never required, but certainly appreciated.  On this occasion, we were lucky enough to score on all fronts.

Checking the conditions

We left San Diego without a firm plan, knowing only that we’d be spending the first night at Big Sur’s Nacimiento Campgound.  Getting to Nacimiento involved a long drive up a nauseatingly kinked road, and would have been awful if we hadn’t seen a coyote pup, which is universally accepted as a good omen for a fantastic surf trip (the opposite of a black cat, basically).  Before we made it to Big Sur, though, we had to drive north through the picturesque Los Angeles Basin, where we passed many fine Mexican Taquerías.  We finally stopped in Buellton and made the first of several unfortunate decisions involving food.  In this case, opting to eat lunch at Burrito Loco.

A yelp review

How this establishment has managed to gather 4 stars on Yelp is beyond me.  The chips and salsa were good, but everything else tasted like feces.  Bad feces, at that.

After lunch, we stopped in Morro Bay and surfed The Rock.  The water was chilly but it was the acrid smell of bird poo that hit a nerve as we got into the water.  The waves were a bit mixed up, but we had fun and the warm showers were a real plus.  I tried paddling out with my underwater housing, but after getting tossed in the whitewater and nearly killing a tourist with my board, I decided to give that up.

The beauty that is Big Sur

A bit more driving (hours) and we finally made it to Big Sur.  We took a spur road east towards Nacimiento and arrived at our bug-ridden paradise about an hour later.  If you ever decide to drive to Nacimiento Campground, know that it is farther than the maps or guides will tell you.  Also know that you are a fool.  Just kidding, Lakshan reserved the site and since it was our only option, beggars can’t be choosers.  But beggars can be whiners.

Investigating the coastline

Campground fun

Elephant seals fighting or playing or doing something with their mouths

The next morning, we drove back to the coast to try and snatch one of the highly-sought-after coastal campsites.  We got lucky at Plaskett Creek, and scored an awesome little site in the back of the campground, where we were secluded enough to continue our yelling and screaming and generally immature behavior.   Oddly enough, Plaskett Creek gets 4-1/2 stars on Yelp, which is only 1/2 star better than Burrito Loco.  One of life’s little mysteries, I suppose.


Relaxing at Plaskett Creek

We unpacked our gear and drank some beers, and then hopped across the highway to rugged Sand Dollar Beach.  Now that we were further north, the water was even colder and the surf had increased in size.  I was already feeling nervous about sharks, and it didn’t help that we were about to surf within a Sea Otter Preserve.  I decided to shoot some photos from the beach while the rest of the guys tested the water, so to speak.  I wanted to see if a white shark mauling was an imminent threat, and pulling the “I’m a photographer” excuse always seems to work.

Access trail to the beach

Lakshan on the paddle out

Steve doing his best Joel Tudor impression

Large creatures I certainly hope are dolphins

We saw no shortage of sea life, but no sharks.  My heart rate jumped when I saw a big fin poke out of the water, but it was just a dolphin, who was out to have a good time like us.  I saw a large sea lion just inside from the guys, and I giggled to myself as I waited to see if it would scare them (it did not).  A big jellyfish drifted by me at one point, and I giggled to myself as I waited to see if it would sting Lopez.  I always get a kick out of it when my friends are stung by venomous sea creatures.

Lakshan dropping in

Lakshan kicking out in his preferred style



We returned to our campsite and the fog started to roll in shortly thereafter.  After lunch and some more beers, it was time to catch stuff to eat.

Hunting for sand crabs

Fresh sea urchin roe (uni)

We explored the south section of the beach, hoping to find intertidal snacks like limpets, mussels, and the like.  Unfortunately, all we found were piles of decaying seaweed and more bird poo.  Like any successful band of hunter-gatherers, we quickly changed our tactics in an effort to adapt to the conditions.  Namely, we began digging for Emerita analoga, aka sand crabs.  These were plentiful and easy to catch.  We were pretty sure they were edible.

Foraging expert Green Deane confirms that sand crabs are, in fact, edible.  According to his website:

“So, how do you eat them? Many ways but raw is not one of them. While most sea food is safe they can harbor parasites. Best to avoid any complications by cooking them. They are prepared three or four different ways.”

Deane goes on to explain some popular cooking methods, one of which we tried (fry in hot oil) and another we plan to test in the future (seafood stew).  It will be interesting to see if the parasites lead to any “complications” because Steve and Lopez ate live sand crabs that had recently molted.  And as everyone knows, a freshly-molted sand crab is a parasite-ridden sand crab.  Good luck with that, fellas.

Sand crabs, or gross sea lice, as I call them

Frying up a snack

Soon it was dark, and as the fog cleared we were treated to a wonderful view of the Milky Way.  The Perseid meteor shower was on full display, and we saw a whopping two or three meteors per hour.  These things never seem to pan out like I hope.

Long exposure showing the Milky Way and a meteor streak (upper right)

The next morning, we decided to drive north and further into the area known as The Red Triangle, a region off California’s coast that has earned the reputation for being very sharky.  It’s been estimated that over half of all the white shark attacks in recorded history have occurred in this region.  Yay!

The Red Triangle. Don’t say we didn’t warn you.

I don’t know why I felt so scared.  After all, one of the last fatal attacks happened in Solana Beach, which is just a mile north of Torrey Pines, my favorite break in San Diego.  Sharks like to play mind games, you see.  Tricky bastards.

Unfortunately, the wind really picked up as we drove north towards the Monterey Peninsula.  We stopped in Carmel to stock up on supplies (meat and beer) and then turned around.  On the way back, we stopped to harvest some wild fennel, which would be the key ingredient in our campground chicken.

Picking fennel

Rocky coastline



We spent some more time exploring around and then decided to go for another surf at Sand Dollar Beach.  The waves had picked up, and there were some legit overhead sets rolling through.  The wave reminded me of a big Tourmaline, and despite the size, it never felt scary.  Except for the sharks, which were always in the back of my mind.  And the front of my mind, and probably in my fingertips and toes, too.  We all caught some fun waves but I couldn’t bring myself to swim out into open water with my housing, so no pictures from a new vantage point.  Maybe I’ll grow a pair on future trips, who knows?




As usual, most of the best shots show Steve taking off down the line, right hand in the wave.  He catches more waves than the rest of us, and though I hate to admit it, surfs with better style.  Whenever I look at photos of myself surfing, I want to throw up.  In all fairness, that is at least partly due to the fact that Steve is not a photographer.  That’s what I tell myself, at least.

Jason and Lopez

On one of our little scouting trips, I shot a series of 7 images in manual mode with plans to stitch them together into an awesome surforama.  It turned out ok, though the resulting file was over 200 MB and took an hour to process on my computer.  The fact that this image can be enlarged to 15 feet fails to impress since it’s being displayed here at 8″ across.  Oh well, just take my word for it; it’s cool.

Big Sur Panorama

We ate what everyone agreed was the best campfire meal, ever.  Fresh corn on the cob, a whole chicken seasoned with wild fennel pollen, a roasted pork loin, and meat-on-stick.  Wonderful stuff.

Campfire chicken.  Note the delicate hands.

The yellow stuff is fennel pollen, obviously

Big Sur

No explanation needed

Full gallery of large-size photos below.




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