Words by Tyler Balak. Photos by Jennifer Phan. Captions by John Streit.

“Trying to figure out what that fishy smell is.”

These are the first words spoken to me following a sketchy cliff descent to a notoriously sharky spot. At least there were two other guys out helping my odds.  I didn’t see any men-in-gray, but it didn’t help that sea lions kept popping up around us during the entire session.

Welcome to Northern California.

When you surf in town, the spots are pretty user-friendly. That is aside from sharing the lineup with a hundred other dudes or ending up with a foot full of urchin spines while getting in and out.  The local vibes are pretty chill though, and if you need to get away (trust me, you will), there’s a ton of nooks and crannies sprinkled along the Pacific Coast Highway. Most spots aren’t really marked, so just look for surf cars or camper vans. Don’t worry about the locals, many of their cars and campers resemble Cheech and Chong’s, so the parking lots seem more like a Bob Marley concert than the Player Hater’s Ball.

Once you’re surfed out, there’s still plenty to do. The scenery is unreal and there are tons of parks to hike and overlooks to check out. You can also spend some time in San Francisco, where iconic landmarks are around every corner and the restaurants and bars are legendary. If you ever get a chance to check out the other side of California, go! Just make sure you bring an empty stomach, a healthy liver, a camera, wetsuits and a step-up surfboard from the S&A webstore.

Tyler at the world-famous Golden Gate Bridge. You can see the left at Fort Point reeling off to his left. It's a fickle and highly-localized wave, but offers an incredibly long ride and clean conditions when it's victory-at-sea. Photo: Phan.
Beautifully rugged coastline vistas are around every corner. Photo: Phan.
From coast-to-coast, you can bet Tyler's laying down his patented layback gouge. Photo: Phan.
Well overhead and running, Tyler sets up this set wave. Photo: Phan.
Trolley cars are part of what gives San Francisco its unique character. Photo: Phan.
SF's Lombard Street: The curviest road in America. Photo: Phan.
Compact, precise and powerful. Photo: Phan.
Tyler exercises great control on a fin slide on a steep wall. Photo: Phan.
Jennifer poses with a giant California redwood tree. Photo: Balak.
The majestic banana slug: the official mascot of the University of California at Santa Cruz. Photo: Balak.
A tribute to the late Sion Milosky at Mavericks, the wave that claimed the life of one of the world's hardest-charging big-wave surfers. R.I.P. Photo: Phan.
Flashing fins above the lip is another signature move for Dr. Balak. Photo: Phan.
Monterey Bay offers up prolific sea life, as demonstrated by these massive flocks of pelicans and cormorants. Photo: Phan.
Seal Rock lies just beyond the main peak at Santa Cruz's iconic righthand pointbreak, Steamer Lane. Photo: Phan.
Tyler takes in some world-class scenery on his walk back to the top of the peak. Photo: Phan.
Another powerful hack. Photo: Phan.
Fins free on the inside. Photo: Phan.
Plenty of jaw-dropping views along this stretch of coast. Photo: Phan.
Cannery Row, Monterey.
Vertical backside lip attack. Photo: Phan.
Tyler tags a closeout. Photo: Phan.
Seals straight chillin' on the dock. Photo: Phan.
Halloween may have passed, but Tyler does a headless horseman impression on this backhander. Photo: Phan.
A laid back smack. Photo: Phan.

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