Salmon Creek is a tough place to surf. Locals joke it’s only good one day in a row. The water is cold. There are strength-draining currents, stiff onshore winds and heavy water hold-downs. And don’t forget the sharks. They’re most abundant in fall, right when the waves are at their best. But when the conditions do line up, Salmon can deliver days of epic surf—spitting barrels, deep blue walls and long rides that make all the risks and hardship worth it.
“I love the nature, beauty and raw power of Salmon Creek,” says stalwart local surfer Alex Spooner. “There’s a mental cleansing that comes from spending time in one of the most beautiful lineups in Northern California but it can be tough for beginners because it’s often a tough paddle.”
“There’s a mental cleansing that comes from spending time in one of the most beautiful lineups in Northern California"
But because Salmon Creek can be such an unforgiving place, it’s rarely crowded on the water. Even during the best days it’s easy to paddle north or south and find a peak of your own. And maybe because the spot seems to attract an older crowd, there’s none of the cutthroat, wave-stealing aggression that characterizes Santa Cruz and spots further south. Instead you get rad old dudes on longboards hooting at each other into waves or calmly sitting on their boards between sets, taking in the views of the hills that tumble down to the water’s edge and watching the whales, dolphins and seals that regularly swim by.
Surfing at Salmon Creek requires a different kind of board. While twitchy shortboards are common, you’re better off with a longer, wider board that affords more paddle power, an asset for long paddles through strong currents typical at Salmon Creek, sometimes known as “Slammin’ Salmon” or just “Slammy.”
Santa Rosa surfboard shaper Jamie Murray makes boards designed for these challenging conditions. His dragonfly and pine tree logos are regular sights on boards at Slammy.
"A board has to handle everything from ankle high to double overhead surf,” he says. “Our conditions are wild and unpredictable. Shaping for those conditions is a fool's errand, but that's part of the challenge."
The folks at the area’s two surf shops—Bodega Bay Surf Shack and Northern Light Surf Shop—know Salmon Creek and other beaches as well as anyone. They will steer you toward the right board, too. There are other, lesser known surf spots, but don’t go asking for any secret intel. You’ll have to find that out for yourself.