Detours: Oceanside, southern California

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 03 September, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 03 September, 2008, 12:00am

Southern California is the ultimate beach holiday destination and remains the surf mecca and water sports capital of the world.

Oceanside used to be a party town for marines on their way to Vietnam, but it has undergone a stylish revamp. Less crowded than other surf towns with a pleasant harbour and seaside dining, it is only 45 minutes up the North Coast Freeway from downtown San Diego. It's also becoming popular with overseas tourists keen to indulge their west coast fantasies.

With my pale complexion and oversized shorts, I look more like Danny DeVito than David Hasselhoff as I head for the beach.

'The water is all people care about here,' says Candace, a barmaid at Oceanside's Rockin' Baja Lobster Bar, passing me a Horni Tequila. 'The hard bods and babes you see on Baywatch aren't cool. To be cool you need to learn about the local surf culture and language - you have to catch a tube.'

The California Surf Museum boasts photos of surfers shooting the pier on Huntington Beach, and riding snaps and long cutbacks on the famous Newport 'Wedge'. The curator talks of legends such as Preston 'Pete' Peterson, and Duke 'Drop Knee' Kahanamoku. At the Longboarder Cafe, locals predict 'good glass', and that the shore breakers are 'macking and gnarly'. A lifeguard offers a translation. 'You gotta learn between 'mushy junk' and 'killer A-frames',' he says from his lookout. 'It's all about wave selection. See one and you've got to get on it like a fly on poop.' He looks through his binoculars. 'There's good wave activity today.'

Oceanside and Carlsbad, a short distance down the coast, have surf schools where all ages can try longboarding, bodyboarding and bodysurfing. Oceanside hosts the World Bodysurfing Championships every August and the current Men's grand champion Tim Casinelli tells me all you need is some fins, a pair of Speedos and a good body shape.

His father, Mike, a former lifeguard, tells me Baywatch took its name from the dinghies used by the San Diego and LA rescue services and that the 'green room' is the middle of a wave.

Paddling out, I am hit by a wave and lose balance. Bill, my surfing instructor, arrives.

Seeing my shorts ballooning out, he smiles. 'You aren't much of a seaside guy, are you?' I look down at the sea foaming between my toes and shake my head. 'Don't expect to spin any big backdoor barrels for a while,' Bill says with a laugh.

We stride out into the ocean. 'I'm really logging up some quality tube time. What a buzz man,' I yell at anyone who will listen.

But soon it is time, as they say in Oceanside, 'to find some trim on an open face and bust a move', or as we amateurs say, make a spectacle of yourself. I launch forward on the board and sink like a rock.

Bill picks me out of the surf. 'It's your shorts. They're too baggy - and have pockets.'

'David Hasselhoff didn't wear Speedos,' I protest.

Bill grins. 'The closest he came to the 'green room' is backstage before the show.'