SANTA MONICA, Calif. — The Santa Monica Pier is about to get sporty. During the two-day Pier 360 festival this Saturday and Sunday, visitors who ordinarily stroll the railroad ties to grab a churro or ride the Ferris wheel will have the chance to watch various beach sport competitions and enjoy pop-up activities such as rollerskating, aqua yoga — even a ninja obstacle course.
“We’ve always looked at this two different ways. One is having tons of sports, and one is having sports for people to watch and to come celebrate the pier,” said Pier 360 Executive Producer Brennan Lindner. “It’s really for the love of Santa Monica and the love of the ocean.”
Now in its 11th year, Pier 360 is returning after a two-year, COVID-induced hiatus. What started in 2010 as a paddleboard festival to celebrate the founding of paddleboard racing at Santa Monica Pier has since grown into an event that celebrates the history of surfing, skating and other ocean sports that became global phenomena, largely because of their association with the legendary jetty at the intersection of Ocean and Colorado avenues.
“A potpourri of summer fun,” as Lindner calls it, Pier 360 is free for spectators. Saturday’s festivities begin at 8 am with a full roster of SoCal sports, from a mile ocean swim in the morning to a full day of lifeguard contests and beach volleyball. Sunday’s sports lineup begins at 9 am and includes a 5K beach run, 10-mile standup paddleboard distance race and surf contest.
While the sports are taking place on the sand and in the water, a variety of free all-ages activities are available on the pier deck next to the Pacific Park amusement area. A giant inflatable pool for visitors to do aqua yoga on paddleboards is new this year, as is a rollerskating rink.
Throughout it all, there’s entertainment, from hula dancers and Polynesian music in the mornings to KCRW DJs who will spin each afternoon. Visitors who want a break from the action can enjoy food offerings from pier mainstays like Bubba Gump and Pier 360 pop-ups that will serve tacos, cookies and ice cream gelatos, as well as drinks in a separate beer and spirits garden.
The Santa Monica Pier dates back to 1909, when it was first built as a sewer pipe conveyance. It became an amusement destination a few years later with the addition of a second pier that brought in a carousel, merry-go-round, funhouse and wooden roller coaster. But it’s the water sports around it that have cemented its iconic status.
During Pier 360, that history is on display at the Museum of Beach Life, which presents a lighthearted and sun-kissed look at how the pier influenced Southern California culture. The exhibits include surf memorabilia and tributes to local legends Gidget, Tarzan and Dottie Hawkins — presented with a surf music soundtrack, of course.
“We’ve always celebrated Pier 360 as the summer kickoff, right after summer solstice,” said Lindner, who expects about 500 athletes to compete and 10,000 spectators to watch them this weekend.