It’s not one of the legendary California surfing locales, but there are waves to be caught in Santa Barbara, if you don’t mind surfing in the shadow of the ever-present oil derricks.
A great spot for newbies to both surfing and the area is Leadbetter Point (Cabrillo past Stearns Wharf). The locals are reasonably welcoming, and the small right break makes for easy and fun rides.
Another small-wave spot sits right in front of the east edge of UC Santa Barbara at Isla Vista (bordered by El Colegio Rd., Ocean Rd., and Camino Majorca). You’ll find a big crowd of college students here (UCSB even has a surf team!), but the point break similar to that at Leadbetter is friendly to longboarders and newer surfers. Do watch out for the naturally occurring tar that mars the water and the beach sands.
For a bit more of a challenge, paddle out to the barrels at Sand Spit (Santa Barbara harbor). This break only really works in the wintertime when a big western swell comes in, and the water can be unpleasantly dirty. But its location within sight of the Harbor and Stearns Wharf makes it convenient.
If there’s such a thing as One True Break in Santa Barbara, it’s Rincon (U.S. 101 at Bates Rd. on the Ventura County line). If you start at the right spot, you can catch a ride over a mile long here. The sets are reliable and the waves are bigger than most other Santa Barbara breaks. For obvious reasons, locals flock to Rincon so you’ll definitely be part of a crowd when you surf here.
Looking for surfing lessons? Check out the Santa Barbara Surf School (www.santabarbarasurfschool.com). The instructors have decades of surfing experience and pride themselves on being able to get beginners up and riding in a single lesson.
© Liz Hamill Scott from Moon California, 2nd Edition