Over a period of eight months Oregon-based photographer Corey Arnold set out to chronicle how people bond with our 74 miles of beaches. For some visitors they’re church; for others, a romantic interlude; for a few, a source of strength. They’re where any Angeleno can go to exhale, regardless of means, nationality, or social standing. Loyal communities form, a camaraderie that Arnold experienced firsthand. At Malibu’s celebrated Surfrider, the locals loaned him boards. Arriving at Dockweiler near midnight, he was adopted by a motorcycle club. “I would look at Google Maps and see places I wanted to go,” Arnold says. “But just driving around brought other moments of extreme randomness.”
Considered a birthplace of modern surfing, the point break just north of the Malibu Pier was declared the first World Surfing Reserve in 2010.
A Dog’s Life
The enclave, also called Billionaires Beach, has been ground zero in the legal battle over Malibu public access. After years of court action, the public can now reach the rarefied strand via three entry gates, though the place remains largely empty. This fellow apparently didn’t see the NO DOGS ON BEACH sign.
Her teenage son had become enamored of surfing, and Karen Scott would ferry him to Malibu from their Mt. Washington home, marveling as he skimmed across the waves. “I loved the ocean, but I also had a terrible fear of it,” says the British expat, who’s nearing 50. “I felt a tug from the ocean; I had to get out there. At first I would sit on a board at the edges of the waves, watching what people did.”
These days she surfs up to five times a week. “It’s magical. I found the hard edges of myself softening. I bump into people from before who don’t recognize me. I’ve earned the respect of the locals; it’s about showing up. They’re on the beach screaming and whistling for me.”
Playa Del Rey
Adam Fox of the nonprofit Marine Animal Rescue swoops in to capture a sea lion that had been attacked by a shark. “It was a difficult operation,” says fellow rescuer Peter Wallerstein. “We tracked her for a week, and she was still very mobile.” Taken to the Marine Mammal Care Center in San Pedro, the animal died from its wounds a day later.
Santa Monica Beach
Among California’s most popular beaches, Santa Monica’s namesake shoreline attracts some 17 million people a year from around the county and the world. It also boasts one of the largest parking lots, originally the site of the castle like Deauville Beach Club, which burned in 1964.
Contestants prepare for the bikini division at a Muscle Beach Venice Body-building Competition, held at the Venice Recreation Center. The dress code goes like this: No thongs allowed, and high heels are required. Makeup must be professional and in good taste.
Leap of Faith
Christian Torres (right) and husband Jeffrey Osmer wanted to capture a moment that symbolized “our jumping off into our lives together and that we’re going to be safe because of our relationship,” says Torres, whose sister-in-law, Carmen Torres, snapped their picture. Engaged at the time, the couple married two months later. They drive to the spot from their Studio City home most weekends in the summer. “It’s the prettiest of the beaches,” says Christian. “It’s iconic California to me.”
Santa Monica Beach
Lifeguards have nicknamed the area north of the pier “1550”—a reference to the parking lot address. It’s considered one of the toughest county beaches to patrol, partly because more than a few bar patrons move their party to the water.
Arizona resident Amy Robinette, holding month-old Davis, was visiting her grandmother in Burbank when the family opted to cool off at the beach. “We drove the entire highway and couldn’t find a place where it wasn’t shoulder to shoulder, until we ended up here,” says her husband, Matt. Their daughter Ruby, then three, was so taken with the spot, “she wanted to come back the following weekend,” he says. “That would be a little hard from Phoenix.”
Jean-Pierre Pereat shrugs out of his wet suit after a session with the Mighty Underdogs, a group he cofounded for autistic children. “My nephew is autistic, and I saw surfing as therapy,” he says. Several times a month he and other instructors take the kids out on tandem-size boards to catch waves. “And it’s not just a onetime thing. We’re out here year-round; you have to surf continually. That way you build trust and a connection.” The Malibu native has logged more than 40 years surfing the famed break: “It’s my backyard”—and ersatz dressing room.
Venice Skate Park
The 2001 documentary Dogtown and Z-Boys immortalized the predecessors of these modern-day Alvas and Peraltas, dreaming of big air a couple of miles from where it all started: Jeff Ho Surfboards and Zephyr Productions in Santa Monica, now the site of, fittingly, Dogtown Coffee.
Record rainfall last winter eased drought conditions but also pumped up the volume of runoff into the ocean, including at this outfall between Gladstones restaurant and the Getty Villa on PCH. Heal the Bay, which posts periodic report cards on water quality along the California coast, had noted some dramatic improvements in 2016—until the history-making storms hit.
El Matador State Beach
Instagram has popularized this outcropping, inspiring Arnold to put his own spin on it: “I used a Canon 5D Mark IV on a tripod and made the shot after the sun was down. I think the exposure was around five to ten seconds. As the water drained off the beach, it created the illusion of motion in the image.”
Julia Valentina Soares (far left), Liza Kharlova, Joanne Angai, and Mariana Correa Pontes celebrate the end of their school year at the University of Albert at Edmonton with a trip to L.A. “We had just landed that afternoon and wanted to watch a beautiful beach sunset,” says Pontes. “Joanne had already been to Point Dume with her brother, so she brought us there. The view was gorgeous, and we also got to see some dolphins and seals.” After taking in the sights, the women returned to homes in Italy, Russia, and Canada.
Starting in the third grade, Johnny Loza (center) would ditch school almost daily, riding the bus to Dockweiler from his South L.A. neighborhood. “Sometimes I was there from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m.,” he says. “I grew up in a really bad neighborhood. But the beach would relax me when I was sad or depressed. It was a place to get away, to talk to God and pray, and wish I wasn’t in the hood.” Now he’s a single dad to London, 9, and Jordan, 13, and works as a drug and alcohol counselor. The Labor Day bonfire with friends from the Down 2 Pound motorcycle club was his first outing to the old haunt in a year.
His shutter speed set for a one-minute delay, Arnold follows the trail of a jet as it takes off from LAX, the shore break below like so much frozen foam. “I was shocked by the sheer number of flights, carrying thousands of passengers a day over the heads of beach-goers sunbathing and surfing nearby,” he says.