Thursday, June 27, 2013

Santa Cruz County's Finest - Four Mile to Town

Considered by many to be the premier downwinder on Santa Cruz County's north coast, the Four Mile to town (Santa Cruz) run possesses possibly the best sustained wind on the north coast, and is arguably one of the finest downwind runs in the world.

Four Mile is perhaps most known by watersport enthusiasts as a coveted surf break and it is only in the past few years that (primarily) SUP watermen and women have begun to enjoy this location as an excellent launch point to access the strong winds that blow down this section of the NorCal coast.

Because the wind usually starts to drop off near Longs Marine Lab/Natural Bridges Beach State
Park, downwinders will either take out at NB's or paddle another mile towards town, and into Mitchells Cove. Mitchell's is also a convenient place to park for free and shuttle up to Four Mile. Paddlers who are looking for a longer paddle workout can continue towards town and paddle into Cowells or Santa Cruz Main Beach. But once you enter into the northern end of the Monterey Bay bight, the wind and water begin to calm and destinations are abundant. (The Santa Cruz Small Craft Harbor, Twin Lakes Beach, 26th Avenue Beach, Pleasure Point and points even further east like Capitola Beach and New Brighton State Park Beach are the primary take out spots.)

Parking at Four Mile can be sketchy and it has long been known by locals and law enforcement alike as a place where many car break-ins have occurred over the years. Good advice would be to leave nothing of value in the shuttle vehicle, and park near the highway where your ride can best be seen. The parking area is littered with broken glass so be careful where you step when off loading your boards, paddles, leashes etc.

The path from the parking lot to the beach is easily seen and the walk is a windy, mostly level or downhill quarter mile. Cross the beach and head towards the cliffs on your right as you face the ocean. Getting ready to launch is most comfortably and safely done in the lee of the cliff face.

Looking out to sea you'll find the surf spot is separated from the broad channel that runs across the cove by a long section of kelp. Paddlers will want to hug the kelp on the channel side and paddle as
far out as possible in order to clear the giant kelp bed that lays in wait on the other (downwind) side of the channel. Once paddlers clear the point at Four Mile they'll be in the wind which will quickly point them downwind and they'll be off and running. (Paddle hard to miss getting stuck in the downwind kelp bed!)

The downwind run is straightforward with lots of good bumps and glides to be had. Kelp grows voluminously in the colder NorCal ocean waters so paddlers are wise to stay outside the kelp beds or they'll quickly be bogged down in the salty vegetation.

The coast from Four Mile to Longs Marine Lab is sparsely populated ag land, and rugged. There are not a lot of open beaches to make an emergency landing. Therefore recommended safety equipment, a good safety plan and practices, and always paddling with a buddy or in a group are highly advised.

This NorCal downwinder is a "go-to" run because of it's easy access, multiple exit points, excellent wind and short but fast distance. Good downwind paddlers can make this run in 50-60 minutes or less. On exceptional wind days paddlers can start their first run in the early afternoon and be finished in time to do a second run. Plan on setting aside about three hours including shuttle time, etc. to make this run.

For more information email and/or join the Santa Cruz Paddleboard Association (SCPA) on Facebook.


  1. Great first post Gary and excellent video!

  2. Friday July 5, 2013 Four Mile to Mitchells Downwind - 1 hr. 3 min with John Alexiou (Sports Tracker). This good wind day came up all of a sudden plunked down in the midst of not much wind on the north coast for the last week, and a poor forecast for wind in the future. I posted it up on Facebook and email, and fortunately John checked his email and got back to me about noon.

    Long story short, we didn't launch from Four Mile until 3:25PM in relatively weak wind. There were a couple surprises to this day and run that didn't fit the "normal" pattern. First, the wind ramped up early on the LML (Wind Alert) sensor, which usually means it's gonna mack even more later in the day. The surprise is that it didn't really, and by the time we launched the wind was relatively light at Four Mile. Consequently it was a fairly easy paddle out and for the first time ever I was able to clear the huge kelp bed on the other side of the channel with ease. I was able to keep the bow of the Shaka turned into the wind, and because there wasn't a lot of juice in the wind swells, they didn't push the nose and board downwind.

    The second surprise was while the wind was light (low 20's), it suddenly jumped up and blew hard (mid/high 20's) off Wilder Beach. From there to Mitchell's it was game on with lots of good runners and a steady wind at our backs. It sustained all the way downcoast to Mitchell's, and (third surprise) it was a much harder side wind paddle into Mitchell's Cove than it had been paddling out from Four Mile.

    That three mile stretch from Wilder to Mitchell's really made the run. A gaggle of windsurfers was ripping it up off Natural Bridges, another testament to how strong the winds were nearer to town than up coast. Larry White was out and he kept buzzing past us as we exchanged whoops and hollers.

    John was paddling his new carbon fiber race board which he was testing out as a downwind board. Turns out the board was fast, stable and held it's own extremely well in the chop and bumps. John is stoked and very fast.

  3. This looks best to connect with people doing this?

    Been going to this area my whole life and its beautiful...great training for Ghost rider down winder...which I have wanted to do...


    1. Mike, join the Santa Cruz Paddleboard Association Facebook group and send your email address to where you can make some connections for future downwinders. Cheers!