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“It’s almost like a religion in a way,” said 31-year-old “professional surfer Julie Cox.

When Cox described what draws her to the waves, it’s not hard to understand why many Californians find spirituality in surfing. “You find your peace out there, looking out at the horizon,” Cox said. “You’re out catching a bunch of waves, watching the sun go down, while birds are diving down to get their food, or a dolphin pops up right next to you. For me, that’s as good as it gets. That’s my kind of church.”

A California native, Cox has surfed professionally for most of her adult life. In 2007, 2008 and 2009, she placed fifth in the world championships for women’s longboard surfing. She even has her own line of women’s longboards, called the Jule Collection.

These days, she runs the California Surf Museum, an institution in Oceanside that displays artefacts of surf culture, surf art and surfboards that date back to the 1900s. Celebrating its 25th anniversary this year, the Surf Museum is currently hosting a retrospective on Hansen Surfboards that takes visitors 50 years into the family company’s past.

Since California is known for its mellow surfers and less-than-mellow waves, we turned to Cox for some insight into the world of west coast surfing.

T: What surprises people who visit California to surf?
C: That the water’s cold. Our image is bright and sunny, but a wetsuit is a good idea year-round.  In general, [autumn is] a nice time of year. There are usually waves and it’s not too cold. You can pretty much surf every day of the year somewhere around here.

If you’re an advanced surfer, know that you’re not going to find may places that rent advance-style boards. So, you might as well bring your own board and wetsuit.

T: What are some good spots to check out in autumn, both for beginners and advanced surfers?
C: In San Diego, Tourmaline Surf Park is a good beginner spot and Blacks Beach is a good advanced spot. In the Central Coast [area], Mondos is a good beginner spot in Ventura and Rincon is a more advanced spot. And then in Santa Cruz, Cowell’s is a good beginner spot and Steamer Lane would be for advanced.

T: The legendary Mavericks, a big wave surf spot in Northern California boasts one of the biggest, most dangerous waves on earth. Would you recommend this as a good spot for spectators?
C: Yeah, it’s a really thrilling thing to watch. It’s scary-looking. It’s cold, it’s rocky, there’re sharks [and] it’s a lot of current. In Hawaii, there are big waves, but the water’s warm; in California, it’s got an edgier side to it.

You should check Surfline [for] the surf reports before going. It’s a beautiful spot to see on its own, but if you really want to see [surfers riding] the big waves, you’ve got to check the conditions.

T: Can you recommend some places for beginner surf lessons?
C: Cowell’s in Santa Cruz – a bunch of my friends are surf instructors there. There’s a girl named Ashley Lloyd who teaches in Santa Cruz; she’s really good. There’s Carla Rowland in Malibu who’s a great instructor. And there’s the SoCal Surf School and Surf Diva in San Diego.

T: Any advice for advanced surfers visiting California for the first time?
C: Just explore. There are so many amazing places around here. Rent a car – a roadtrip is a classic California thing to do. Get a guidebook and just go exploring.

[Plus,] there are so many ways to immerse yourself in the culture. You can get into a lot of surfing related things without even getting wet. There’s always a movie premier or book signing or fashion show or industry trade show or gallery events. Or you can watch a contest. Or come to a Surf Museum event.

T: What makes California stand out from other surfing destinations?
C: The consistency of the surf in California is world-class, and just the beauty of California. The mountains going right into the ocean. The beautiful cliffs. It’s so raw and wild. I just love California. I don’t know if I’d ever leave.

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