Southern California, Huntington Beach: Surf City, USA, has swells, a surfing museum and at least one ex-surfing champ from Coolangatta

It's the last place you'd expect to find it but there's a little bit of Coolangatta in Huntington Beach, aka Surf City, USA. And it comes in the shape of Coolangatta-born Peter "PT" Townend who, at the age of 23 in 1976, became the first IPS/ASP World Surfing Champion.

A bit of a legend in this beachside suburb where he now lives just an hour south of Los Angeles, the gregariously charming Townend can often be found in Hawaiian-themed Duke's restaurant and bar overlooking a section of the Pacific Ocean where people have been surfing since Hawaiian George Freeth first rode the waves here in 1907.

This is most definitely the place to come if you're a surfer. Orange County's Huntington Beach has 16 kilometres of sandy beaches – USA Today voted it Best California Beach last year – and offers some of the most consistent breaks in Southern California. It also hosts more than 50 surf contests each year, including the US Open of Surfing.

According to local surfers the beach catches pretty much any swell out there and will have waves when other spots along the coast are flat. Personally, I have surfed precisely twice in my life, the second time at Huntington beach with the guys from Toes on the Nose surf shop. I managed to catch a wave right in to the beach. Of course, it was on a board that could double as an aircraft carrier and the deed was never replicated despite many attempts, but I'm calling it a success.

There's another board in Huntington Beach that just edges out mine in terms of size – it's 12.83 metres long, 3.37 metres wide and 0.41 metres thick and is hung on the wall of the car park of the International Surfing Museum just a few blocks back from the beach.

This is the locally-made surfboard that has two entries in the Guinness Book of World Records, first as the largest board and secondly as the board that was surfed by 66 people at once in 2015.

There's also a surfing walk of fame, graced by a statue of Duke Kahanamoku, the father of modern surfing, and featuring Australians Mick Fanning and Stephanie Gilmore, among many others.

Local celebrity PT Townend was inducted into the walk in 1998 and the Australian Surfing Hall of Fame in 2001. Sitting in the bar at Duke's, he's a mine of surfing stories, not least about his current career move as the national coach of the Chinese national surfing team. His "challenging" job to get them to the Tokyo 2020 Olympics.

Beach volleyball is big here, as is cycling, jogging, paddle boarding, kayaking and roller-skating along the 16-kilometre boardwalk that runs parallel to the shoreline. There are also 500 concrete fire pits along the beach available free on a first-come-first-served basis.

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And then there's that ocean swell. Time to crack out the aircraft carrier one more time? It'd be rude not to.

TRIP NOTES

Keith Austin travelled as a guest of Visit Huntington Beach.

MORE

traveller.com.au/usa

surfcityusa.com/

FLY

Virgin Australia flies to Los Angeles from Sydney (daily), Melbourne and Brisbane. See virginaustralia.com 

STAY

We stayed at the Pasea Hotel and Spa on the Pacific Coast Highway. See meritagecollection.com/pasea-hotel

MUSEUM

The International Surfing Museum, 411 Olive Avenue, houses a collection of surfing memorabilia, admission $US2 donation. See surfingmuseum.org 

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