July 26, 2016

How to Watch the Hurley Pro at Trestles

Every now and then, one of my road trips coincides with a professional surfing event. In September 2015, a road trip to San Diego gave me the opportunity to watch the Hurley Pro at Trestles, an event that is part of the World Surf League's Men's World Championship Tour (the coinciding women's event is the Swatch Women's Pro.)

The 2015 Hurley Pro turned out to be a memorable one.  It featured intense heats with world title implications, a nostalgic Heritage Series Expression Session with some legendary surfers, and Kelly Slater's controversial 4.17 score in the quarterfinals (on a ride in which he lost his board during an aerial maneuver but remounted it to finish the wave.)  But perhaps most memorable was Mick Fanning's gut-check performance after his horrifying shark encounter at J-Bay that led to his victory in the event.

Though I wasn't there for the entire event, I did get to experience enough of it to share some advice on how to watch the Hurley Pro at Trestles next year or in the years to come.

When to Go

The Hurley Pro usually starts in the second week of September.  Like most WSL World Championship Tour events, it has a 12-14 day window.  It takes place at a surf break known as Lower Trestles between the beach towns of San Clemente and San Onofre, CA.

If you don't live anywhere near San Clemente or San Onofre, you're going to have to decide when you want to travel to the area.  If you have two weeks vacation saved up and want to guarantee that you'll see at least some or even all of the Hurley Pro, by all means take two weeks off.  But as awesome as it is to watch a WSL event, you probably don't want to use up two weeks worth of vacation, much of which will be spent sitting around waiting for the event to be called on.

At the very least, you should try to take five days off.  In that amount of time, you'll have a good chance of catching at least some of the event.  You'll just have to decide if you want to go to the area at the beginning, middle, or end of the event window.

Keep in mind that at any point when the waves are decent enough WSL officials will call the event on.  They only have so much time to get through the entire event for both the men and the women.  So there's always a chance that the event will go off at the start of the window, and if the swell holds up it could be over early.  If you decided to show up towards the end of the window, you might miss the event.

Likewise, if you decide to show up towards the beginning and it goes off towards the end, you might miss it as well.

 It's a little bit of a crap shoot really.  But I tend to favor going towards the beginning of the event window. If there's any kind of swell, WSL officials are going to call the event on so as not to push their luck later on.

At the beginning of the window, you're most likely to catch the early rounds. Not only will you catch some of the event, you'll also at least get to see your favorite surfers in action who might get eliminated later on.

Where to Stay

There are a few hotels in nearby San Clemente and San Onofre.  If they happen to be full or you want to be in an area that has more to do on event lay days, you'll probably want to find a hotel in a nearby town or city.

You should easily be able to find a hotel to the north in the Los Angeles area or to the south in San Diego.

I stayed in the Miramar neighborhood of San Diego.  Either from L.A. or San Diego, it will only take you about 30-45 minutes to get to San Clemente or San Onofre on I-5.

Where to Park

Whether coming from the north or south on I-5, you have five options on where to park.

The official event parking is on a dirt lot right behind Lower Trestles.  If you get there super early, you might score a parking spot.  It's the most convenient parking for the event.

You can get to the dirt lot by exiting the I-5 at Exit 71 Basiline Road.  After turning towards the beach, you'll see the dirt road that takes you to the lot. It's marked with event signs and there might even be a parking attendant for the event giving directions.

The second most convenient parking is at San Onofre Beach Park.  You also get there by getting off at Exit 71.  I didn't park there so I'm not exactly sure how to get there from Exit 71.  There are some small back roads that take you there.  I saw the parking lot from the highway.  There is very little parking there, so if you want to get a spot there you also have to get there super early.  It's just a few hundred yards to walk to the event from there.

Your third option for parking is the overflow parking located at Trails, a kind of day surfing/beach campground area.  To get there, you also get off at Exit 71 and follow the signs as well (I saw signs saying the official parking lot was full and directing spectators to overflow parking.) There is an entry/parking fee of $15.

Your fourth option is to park in San Clemente at the public parking lot on El Camino Real right next to the Carl's Jr.  To get there you get off at the Cristianitos Road exit which is the last exit for San Clemente when driving south from LA or the first exit when driving north from San Diego.  But that lot fills up pretty fast.

Your final option is parking on the streets of San Clemente.  A lot of the street parking fills up pretty fast as well, so you might find yourself having to drive around a while before you find a spot.  And if you park far enough away you could be adding up to a mile to your walk to the event.

How to Get to the Event from Your Parking Spot

The long slog
The official parking lot and the lot at San Onofre State Beach are the easiest ways to get to the event because they're nearby. But they fill up quickly.

Overflow parking is supposed to offer another convenient means of getting to the event because shuttle buses are provided.  But it's totally confusing. First of all, you may have to drive a couple more miles down the road of Trails if you can't find parking near the gate.  Once you park, you have to flag down a shuttle.  The shuttles are unmarked, but you can safely assume that any shuttle you see is for the event.

There are no signs for any shuttle pickup points.  The lady at the campground gate told me they come every 20-30 minutes and as for pickup points, just look for people standing around.

After waiting 45 minutes far down the road, I decided to drive closer to the gate.  Luckily, I found a spot.  Soon after, I saw a shuttle so I flagged it down and managed to get on.  After driving a short distance down the road the shuttle filled up, so it turned around, which explained why I didn't see a shuttle while waiting farther down the road.

So if you try overflow parking, do so at your own risk.  Try to park near the gate.  If you can't, try to walk as close to the gate as you can to maximize your chances of catching a shuttle.

As for the other two areas, be prepared to do some serious walking.

To begin your trek to the event from the streets of San Clemente or the parking lot by Carl's Jr., you're going to have to go back down to Cristianitos Road and cross the highway overpass.  Once on the other side, there is a trail that goes downhill.

If you kept going straight, you would run into the official parking lot.  But since you're going to the event, you're going to make a right at the trail that runs to the beach (if you're coming from the official parking lot, you're going to make a left.)

That trail is about an eighth to a quarter mile long.  You'll see some elevated railroad tracks, and right past them is the beach.  When you get to the beach, you make a left, and then your walk becomes a little more intense.  I estimated it was about another quarter to half a mile to Lower Trestles, not an easy walk in the sand.

Where to Watch

When you finally make it to Lower Trestles, you will have to find a spot to watch the event. The best view is from the VIP tent directly center on the beach to Lower Trestles. But if you're not a VIP, you're going to have to watch from the beach with the masses.

To the right of the VIP tent, there is a sand ledge that starts out at a few inches then grows into a six-seven foot sand ledge. If you get to the event early enough, you might score yourself a sweet spot on the ledge. But if you get there late, it'll be hard to get a decent view of the action. The spectators are about three rows deep, and many of them put up beach umbrellas, making it near impossible to see.

Your second option is to go to the bottom of the ledge nearer to the shoreline. The ledge has a little slope to it so you could set up a towel or beach chair and be comfortable.

A third option is to go to the left of the VIP tent. But the shoreline is mostly rocks with some patches of beach. You won't be as comfortable, but at least you'll be able to see.

Where to Use the Bathroom

The Hurley Pro actually has plenty of port-a-potties, and they're even under tents.  If you gotta go, you should have no problem.

Where to Eat

Unlike some other WSL events, the Hurley Pro has limited options when it comes to food.  For example, at events on the North Shore, Oahu that I have attended, there were food trucks along the nearby road.  At a place like Huntington Beach for the WSL Qualifying Series U.S. Open of Surfing, places to eat are just a few steps away from the beach.

Since Lower Trestles is a bit more isolated, there are far fewer options.  In fact, the only place I saw to grab a bite was one food stand.  It offered the expected hamburgers, cheeseburgers, and hot dogs.  But it also had some variety, like a breakfast burrito, teriyaki chicken bowl, and veggie burger.  And for snacks it had some refreshing ice cream sandwiches and watermelon slices.  The prices at the stand were very reasonable given its monopoly: $4-6 for food and $2-3 for snacks.

It also sold bottled water, gatorade, and soda.  The only alternative to buying water from the food stand was a Waves for Water (the clean water charity) water fountain.  But you could only get the water with the purchase of a Hurley branded water thermos, with the proceeds going to the charity.
So that's pretty much all you need to know to watch the Hurley Pro at Trestles.  When you get there, sit back and enjoy the show.