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Surf's up for birdies! San Diego's a golf-and-surf paradise like no other

Chris BaldwinBy Chris Baldwin,
San Diego - surfer
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You might not ride a giant wave, but rookie surfers enjoy San Diego. (Courtesy photo)

Golfers don't surf, and surfers don't golf, right? In San Diego, Calif., world-class golf courses and the mighty Pacific Ocean meet, and golfing and surfing can combine for one gnarly San Diego golf vacation.

SAN DIEGO - Matt Henson looks like your typical golfer. Polo shirt? Check. Khakis? Check. Golf course logo hat? Check. Pensive smile? Check.

He's not the kind of guy you'd expect to break out words like "gnarly" and "stoked." And when he does, it will probably be a first. But Henson is a surfer all the same. He's trying to learn how to ride the waves while maintaining his handicap on the golf course.

"I went out on the board this morning," Henson explains as he waits to tee off on Torrey Pines North. "It's a lot more relaxing than golf if you ask me. I stress out more over how I'm doing in golf."

Henson shrugs. His playing partners shoot him strange looks.

Hey, it's not everyday you see an alien creature. That's what many assume Henson is. After all, golfers don't surf and surfers don't golf. They're pursuits for different personalities, singular obsessions that define a man, right?

Wrong. At least when it come to San Diego golf vacations. This ocean-side wonderland is seeing more and more tourists cross over in its two top pursuits. Why limit yourself to one when you can have both the picturesque par 3s and the killer waves?

Surf's up. Birdie on.

You can't be a good surfer, a good golfer and a good fisherman," said San Diego Surfing Academy founder Pat Weber. "Being good at any one of them takes too much time. But they're also the only things you can be absolutely awful at and still have a good time.

"Some of the worst golfers and the worst surfers are out there having the most fun."

You might think it's a coincidence that San Diego Surfing Academy's main beach is right near La Costa's well known golf resort and a quick trip to Torrey Pines. Weber will tell you different.

He is the rare - OK, likely only - surf instructor to offer surf and golf combo deals. You surf in the morning when the conditions are usually better and golf in the afternoon when the wind picks up. While Weber may have put the two together officially, the surprise comes in the number of golfers/surfers who've been doing both on their own for years.

Though if you know San Diego, you know this is the spot that could bring any two cultures together.

"You can surf 365 days a year here in my experience from 23 years in San Diego," Weber said. "You can surf virtually every day here. If you can't surf in the morning because the surf's so small, you can show up later in the day and surf.

"Then you have some of the best golf courses in the world right here, minutes from where you're surfing. La Costa and Torrey Pines ... you're not doing too bad for yourself right there."

San Diego is arguably the most weather-proof golf destination on the West Coast too. A bad day here in February is in the high 50s. And in the summer, the suffocating heat that grips places like Scottsdale and Las Vegas is nowhere to be found.

Your biggest challenge may be gathering up the courage to try and stand up on a board in the middle of the ocean. Especially if you're an adult first timer as many golf tourists tend to be.

"If you starting as an adult who didn't have the good fortune to be raised at the beach, it can be tough," Weber said.

Still, the guy who started surfing himself at age 6 has seen plenty of beginners catch their first wave after only one or two hours. You may never look like Kelly Slater on top of a wave that could swallow Beverly Hills, but you won't completely fail either.

A few spills into your experience, you may already be addicted anyways.

San Diego surfing as maddening as golf

Surfers and golfers actually talk alike in substance, if not delivery. If someone who isn't into their sport hears them going on and on about the Zen of the waves or the peacefulness of the morning fog rolling across a still-wet fairway, it's a guaranteed eye roll. Every time.

"You can't explain it to someone who's never surfed because there's nothing else like it," Weber said. "The feeling is called stoked and it's simply the best feeling in the world. It's the best natural high you can experience. You'd need some other artificial high to come close."

Weber paused, feeling his point was not getting across.

"For me, personally it's better than sex," he said. "And you can't tell me I haven't been doing it right."

When's the last time you heard a competitor compare his leisure sport to sex? Probably when that survey came out showing that 31 percent of golfers would give up sex for an entire year to play one round at Augusta National. Still think surfers and golfers are such different souls?

Finding a golf course to play in San Diego is no problem - besides Torrey and La Costa, there's the extremely underrated and cheap Coronado Island course, and that's just for starters. Getting the surf community to respect a rookie who barely left his swimming pool before putting on that wetsuit for the first time turns out to be much tougher.

A few years ago, a famous ad ran in surf magazines declaring, "If you surf, please don't stop. If you don't surf, please don't start."

Hardcore surfers tend to be very protective of the better waves. Still the 47-year-old Weber does not care if some fellow surfers get on him for offering two-hour private lessons for $110. You shouldn't either.

You're in San Diego. Grab a board and try to hang 10. Just don't put the 10 up on Torrey Pines South's killer par-4 fourth. No matter how good the waves were in the morning, you won't be stoked.

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Chris Baldwin keeps one eye on the PGA Tour and another watching golf vacation hotspots and letting travelers in on the best place to vacation.

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