Not since Gidget wiggled her hips in front of a green screen has surfing experienced such a boom. Omaha transplants who haven't swam since their days in amniotic fluid pick up a new longboard before they buy furniture.
So, thank Mother Nature for her hellish walk. If it weren't for the 500 feet of sheer cliff between the street parking and the wave, the number of surfers at Black's Beach would make Mexico City look like a ghost town.
You can park at the glider port to the north and walk down the 'goat trail'--an ankle-snapping series of rock steps and makeshift bridges. Only the bull-headedly rugged do this. Or the 75-year-old men who want to let their wieners hang down to their cankles, since the trail brings you the closest to the nudist part of the beach.
The efficient and sane park on the street on La Jolla Farms, getting half-naked in front of millionaires' homes as they change into their wetsuits. They then walk down the access road, which a gate closes off to the general public. The road is owned by UCSD, and keys to the gate (as well as the accompanying parking pass) have long been the golden fleece of the surf world. You'll occasionally meet a 'UCSD Dive Club' member who has one, and he'll grin a pretentious, higher-education grin.
It takes 10 minutes to walk down the paved, winding road, mounted on each side by sagebrush and other uninspiring desert flora. Environmental signs are plastered with surf stickers, plus those for local bands Daredevil Jane and Mower. The walk up takes a thigh-burning 15 minutes, which, after a few hours of surfing, firmly establishes fatigue. But that and the time investment helps keep people with busy lives away from Black's and surfing lesser breaks in San Diego with quicker 'in-and-out' accessibility.
That doesn't mean it's not crowded; during a good swell, I've reached the bottom of the cliff during pre-dawn darkness and counted 18 bodies in the water, blindly feeling their way into waves.
That's because the waves at Black's has little equal in San Diego, save for Swami's, the La Jolla Reefs or the semi-secret spot in Coronado that only breaks on a mean south swell. Swells hit the deep-water canyon just off shore and jack up, often A-framing and tossing tubes in both directions, although it favors lefts. You can see the La Jolla Cove, miniaturized off in the distance; otherwise, it's just water and beach and sheer cliff. The lifeguard 'station' is four driftwood logs.
The locals tend to be older--a quiet, serious crew who have given up late-night life for the possibility of glassy, less-crowded dream surf as dawn breaks.
It's not for everyone. The wave is heavy, and it challenges the breath capacity of beginners. I've surfed here next to Kelly Slater, Rob Machado and other people who make a living riding waves.
But despite the hassle, the burning thighs and the eating of precious hours, it's as close as San Diego gets to the way John Muir would've envisioned surfing.