Picture the scene… its nearly spring break in California, the temperature at Devereuax Beach, Santa Barbara is about 16 degrees and a little windy. The average water temperature at this time of year is just 11 degrees! My husband is a pretty keen surfer and we are staying with our American friends Danah & Cedar. Cedar is a MAD surfer, he is always quick to jump in the water. He started surfing in his hometown of Portland, Oregon where the sea temperatures are even colder again. You have got to be crazy or very dedicated to want to be a surfer in those icy conditions.
We first me Danah & Cedar during their year long stay in Coffs Harbour, Australia. They moved in across the road from us at Diggers Beach. In Coffs Harbour our sea temperatures vary from 26 degrees to a low of 20 degrees, these are far more comfortable temperatures. Although I’m the first to admit, I will only swim on the days where the water hits 26! On some of the coldest, bleakest, Coffs winters days I would see Cedar heading down to catch a wave. I’m sure by the time the family moved back to the states he had worn his own track down to the beach.
It was inevitable that when the family returned to the states they would settle in a town like Santa Barbara. Santa Barbara has lots of great surf breaks and a huge surf culture. Some of the legendary names in surfing history such as Pat Curren and Kelly Slater call Santa Barbara home. Oh, and who remembers that cult classic surf film “Endless Summer”? Filmmaker Bruce Brown also lives in the mountains behind Santa Barbara.
Naturally to keep these guys happy there must be some great Santa Barbara surf breaks. Cedar explained that when the conditions are right the waves will be pumping. The best local surf spots come to life when there is a direct westerly swell. In summer, however the Channel Islands block the south swell completely so Santa Barbara has no surf at all during that period.
Thankfully it was still spring, but we didn’t get the perfect weather conditions for surfing. With no direct westerly swell the waves were a little small, but Brett’s motto is “any surfs a good surf.”
Cedar had warned Brett about the water temperatures and suggested he should pack a long sleeve steamer, but alas that was out of the question. We were on a month long vacation with two kids and limited to carry on luggage only.
With only a pair of board shorts between him and the ice cold water Brett marched into the surf. He had joked that it would be his quickest surf ever. He just wanted to be in long enough to catch one wave. He didn’t want to travel all the way to the states with out surfing Santa Barbara.
Cedar was the first one to catch a wave. I couldn’t help wonder how Brett was managing sitting on his board with his legs dangling in the water. I was freezing just standing on the headland. I had a moment of panic when I saw something black swimming in the water near the guys. Are there white pointers in Santa Barbara??
I needn’t have worried, a cute seal had decided it would play in the waves too. The seal caught a few waves and eventually came all the way into shore, playing and watching us all the time. It seemed quite bizarre to see a seal in the wild. It really made my day.
Brett was next up and managed to make the most of a tiny wave. I expected to see him paddle straight for shore, but he turned around and headed back out.
The boys were happy surfing and didn’t seem to be in a hurry to get out of the water so Anais and Danah decided to go for a walk along the beach. The beaches are quite different in California. Although they are white sand beaches the sand doesn’t have the same silky clean feel as you expect in Australia. In some of my photos you may have spotted one of a series of oil rigs just off the beach. I spoke to Cedar when he came in from his surf and he explained that this area is actually one of North Americas largest oil field!
It seemed strange that a developed country such as America would happily drill for oil right on the coastline. I wondered how the animals and the environment could survive with all the oil on the beach and in the water.
Cedar explained that the oil, methane and asphalt naturally seeps out of the earth in this area of coastline. He said, as a surfers he will often see methane bubbling up to the surface of the water on still, glassy days. Surprisingly he has also seen chunks of asphalt floating in the ocean around him.
After this surprising piece of information I decided to consult wikipedia. Wikipedia confirmed that early European explorers documented the occurrence of natural oil slicks in the Santa Barbara channel (Coal Oil Point /Devereaux Beach). In 1792, James Cook anchored his ship in the Santa Barbara Channel, and the navigator wrote in his journal that the sea was “… covered with a thick, slimy substance,” and added “… the sea had the appearance of dissolved tar floating on its surface, which covered the ocean in all directions.” within the limits of our view.”
Due to this natural wonder, Cedar keeps a can of degreaser in the car so he can clean any asphalt off the board before packing it away.
Ive put together a list of some of the more popular surf spots.
Surfing Santa Barbara
Rincon – This one apparently really goes off in the right conditions
The Ranch (Government Point, Cojo Point, Drakes, Razor Blades, Perko’s, Utah and St. Augustine’s)
Refugio State Beach – Serene and tranquil point break
El Capitan State Beach – One of the best right points in California
Leadbetter – Great beach for a beginner wave
Devereaux (Coal Oil Point) –
Hammond’s – Classic California point break
So don’t let me put you off with talk of ice cold water and tar. Winter in Santa Barbara provides awesome surf.