The Most Dangerous Surf in San Francisco Part 2

The San Francisco Bay Area is one of the most resourceful cities in the nation with many remnants of WWII. There was a reason why San Francisco was so heavily protected. Remnants of forts that had been used by the US Army in the 1940s still stand and when visiting you get a flash back from the past. A vulnerable strategic attack in San Francisco would be costly. The Golden Gate Bridge stretches 1 mile over the bay from Marin County to San Francisco. Thousands of ships cross into the bay every year. Last week, I visited Fort Point and surfed underneath the Golden Gate Bridge. This time we’re heading north to the other side.

The Golden Gate Bridge from Marin Headlands
Driving to Fort Cronkite from San Francisco
Getting closer to Rodeo Beach
Marin Headlands
Marin Headlands view of the Pacific during the drive to Cronkhite

Driving from San Francisco and entering Marin Headlands I cross the Golden Gate Bridge and am speechless of the picuturisque view of San Francisco from the other side. Nothing new to me, but I fall in love every time.

The next surf location is considered to be dangerous for its big waves, strong rip currents, sharks and rocks, Fort Cronkite, named after WWII General Adelbert Cronkhite.

Fort Cronkite was used as a military installation to protect San Francisco from Japanese attacks during WWII. One of the most of advanced military technology during  the 1940s had been installed at Fort Cronkite, at Battery Townsley, 16 inch gun batteries.  –


Entering Fort Cronkite, I pass old barracks like I was entering the past. Signs and remnants of WWII brought a mysterious feeling of what to expect while surfing at Rodeo Beach at Fort Cronkite. Fort Cronkite isn’t a sought after beach break by many in the Bay Area, but only to a handful of local surfers. Being a denizen of Marin County, I’ve heard that the waves can be big and the rip currents dangerous. In the past year, a local surf legend had died, Dan Defoe. It’s known to all that surfing at Fort Cronkite is serious business. img_0967

Before getting dressed, I assess the terrain to see if it’s even worthwhile to surf. I notice waves as high as 10-12ft and medium sized waves that came in thick. The rain was pouring down earlier in the morning, but the sky was clear with an overcast approaching. I arrived right on time, the beach was beautiful.

Rodeo Beach
Big waves and heavy sets pound Rodeo Beach

While walking down to the beach with surfboard in tow, I past a man sitting on a bench at the stairs leading down, he quietly said,

“be safe out there, man”. I didn’t know how to react and said, “thank you”.

Hearing about the stories of a local surf legend dying at this break and warnings from colleagues I knew I had to be careful, especially on a rainy day. As I assessed the break, the waves were much larger and had more force compared to Fort Point. The sets came in quickly with a 2-4 second gap in between. I was cautious about paddling out and took my time to learn the sets.


img_0968-1Riding a big one

I spoke with some of the regular guys that were surfing there and they gave me a tip to paddle out at a 60-70 degree angle from the cove. The direction of the swell was WNW and the cove offered protection to get more than 2/3 of the way closer to the break.

While paddling out, I was prepared to put in a lot of work. The waves were big (click here to see surf report) and I entered the water where there was a rip current. However, the sets kept pounding me. For 60 minutes I was caught in a washing machine. I took breaks in between once riding one in and resting for 15 minutes before paddling out. After another 20 minutes I was exhausted. The swell was too powerful and I decided that I had enough. I took it in.

The line upPaddling for one

Chris and Mari (follow @browngirlsurf)

Cronkhite Warriorimg_0955img_0952
Cronkite is a serious break, especially during high surf advisory warnings during winter. Cronkite is considered one of the most powerful and dangerous breaks in Northern California.

I’m happy I got to experience such a beautiful and tough break. I met some cool surfers and spoke to the locals that call this break home. The guys that surf here are veteran surfers like Dan Defoe. I do not personally know Dan nor have I ever spoken to him, but from the stories I’ve heard and through this experience, one thing is for sure, Dan was the real deal. Cronkite is a tough place to call home. Surfers here get a lot of respect. RIP Dan.

Please be safe out there. If there’s any doubt, do not attempt to surf conditions out of your comfort zone. As I continue with this series with more dangerous locations, I will not be attempting to surf them. I will however, interview local surfers and document insights from the locals to help other surfers avoid dangerous situations. That is the essence of this blog series. Please feel free to comment, suggest or leave feedback. I’d love to hear from you.

“Surfing makes me a better, happier person. It’s my quiet time, my release. Life is about living. What better way to live it than be a surfer? – Dan Defoe, San Rafael Surf Legend, 1975-2016 (pictures from

5 Replies to “The Most Dangerous Surf in San Francisco Part 2”

  1. Dude, Cronkite is one of the friendliest, mellow, and most user friendly spots in the bay area. Super short and easy paddle out and usually packed with kids on a Saturday morning. You make this place sound like Sunset Bay, haha. Try not to be so melodramatic and wimpy!

    1. Yeah but there was a death there last year and some of my friends had close calls there too. I also have exp. with this break during winter. I do agree, normally every beach break is nice in the summer but not here in winter. Thanks for the comment.

    2. Hey Matt, you actually me an idea for another blog series, the nicest Bay Area beaches in the Bay Area in summer. Thanks!

  2. Been surfing here since 2008. It can definitely get gnarly. On the other hand it’s pretty good place to learn to surf when it’s small. The sand bar shifts and you get to know it well, rocks, like boulders, on the north side (cove) for about 50 feet from the cliff side. Sandy after that and watch out for the little dip before the sand bar! Be wise walk in with bent knees.
    2-4 ft ok go learn, 6+ feet the local surf junkies get wave hungry and are surfing so watch and learn and stay out (obvi if your just starting)

    When it’s massive it sounds like thunder hitting the cliffs. It’s beautiful my dudes! Thick fog and you can’t see the waves break so you time it based on the wash. Woo good times.

    Other wise stay out locals only! Jk come on down!

    1. OB is beautiful! Def miss it since moving to LA. OB sessions during Indian Summer is heaven. Thanks for the sharing!

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