Surfing San Clemente Island

Surfing San Clemente Island is somewhat of an urban legend, fuzzy VHS recordings of perfect waves and tales from offshore naval staff have led to a sort of cult status for the island.

San Clemente Island or Ilia de San Clemente sits roughly 41 miles offshore of Southern Califonia, approximately 21 miles long, the island is home to a Naval base housing around 160 personnel. San Clemente Island is the southernmost island of the Channel Island of California.

So what’s the deal with surfing San Clemente Island, can you do it, are you allowed to do it. We take a deep dive off the coast of California to find out more about this mysto spot.

Surf spots on San Clemente Island

San Clemente Island is home to three verified surf spots but fisherman and military personnel claim to have seen other surfable waves break around the island coastline.

The three waves we know of are:


A-frames is a rocky reef that breaks right and left. Offshore in Easterly winds and favouring swell from any West direction this is a great set-up for advanced surfers. The swell direction will often affect the quality of the waves with swells from the North favouring the left and the South the right.

By far the most consistent wave on the island A-frames can provide hollow sections breaking over a shallow reef and steep sections for critical manoeuvres before it runs into deeper water.

Aim to surf A-frames on a low tide rising to mid, too much water across the reef and the waves will start to lose their shape and stop breaking.


Located on the North tip of the island this left-hand boulder point can provide shelter when the West coast is onshore. Large groomed swell can warp into the bay peeling down the long point.

Pointbreak waves provide the perfect canvas for deep powerful rail turns and wrap as the wave rolls down the point, surf Birdhits at full low to experience it in all its glory.


Terminals gained its name due to its close proximity to the runway stationed on San Clemente Island. The wave breaks hard along a bouldery right-hand point with a kelp forest just a few feet below the water.

Dust off those big wave guns, this can be an intimidating surf spot, known to hold surfable waves up to 25ft with large barrels to be had by the brave.

The fuzzy VHS footage that started all the buzz:

How to get to San Clemente Island

Getting to San Clemente Island requires a boat. The trip is approximately 55 miles from the nearest boat ramp accessible at Newport harbour.

If you choose to try and surf San Clemente Island be aware there is a high possibility you will be asked to leave by naval personnel. Security boats patrol the island to ensure domestic and commercial boats don’t come too close to shore.

Kayakers, scuba Divers and fishermen all frequent the waters around San Clemente Island so trying to combine your surf adventure with another boat trip is a great way to keep travel costs down.

Dangers of surfing on San Clemente Island

Due to its distance offshore and vast seal population, San Clemente Island is home to large apex predators sitting just below the surface. Great White’s use the island as a feeding ground and sharks have been noted to be considerably larger than the majority of Whites around claifornia.

San Clemente Island is an active firing range with A-frames sitting well and truly in the line of fire. Sharks aside the thought of surfing while large naval gun installations discharge artillery shells is bracing.

Alongside the naval base on the island is a NAVY seal training camp housing America’s best military operatives and experts. So if hiding from the military wasn’t hard enough you’ll be going up against America’s finest military personnel specializing in search and rescue amongst many other things.

In conclusion

Surfing San Clemente Island is a high-risk activity. Finding and surfing waves on the island will require a James Bond like level of stealth and the chances of a wasted surf trip are high.

Try to find a crusty charger who’s successfully surfed the island before who can either show you the ropes or give you clear instructions on how to access the waves and avoid detection or worse shelling from unknowing naval guns.

If you do choose to try and surf San Clemente Island stay safe and make sure you take all possible precautions to avoid endangering yourself or fellow surfers.

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