The news site of Santa Barbara City College.

The Channels

The news site of Santa Barbara City College.

The Channels

The news site of Santa Barbara City College.

The Channels

Santa Barbara’s closely guarded surf spots

The surf scene in this town is enormous, which is ironic because of its lack of surf.

Marginal surf is frustrating and because of it, surfers suffer.

Dr. Robert Gray, chair of the Geology Department at City College, explains why the surf is bad and what is important to identify when searching for waves. Most of Santa Barbara’s swells are blocked by the Channel Islands.

“The main problem is that the Channel Islands act as a buffer for southwest and northwest swells,” Gray said.

Story continues below advertisement

Anacapa Island also acts as a wave refractor for the Oxnard and Port Hueneme area. Wave refraction causes swells to bend and wrap around points like Rincon and Campus Point, making these swells dominate in this area.

Oxnard and Port Hueneme can get decent surf due to the submarine canyons on its ocean floor. “The swells are funneled through the submarine canyons that act as a fire hose, meaning it is a wave enhancer, Gray said.

He added that more is going on than just the Channel Islands blocking the precious surf that surfers need to keep their sanity.

For example, Point Conception sticks out under the water, limiting swell into Santa Barbara’s channel. During the winter months, Santa Barbara is greeted by most of its swells.

“The best places to look for plungers, or waves, are the points along our coast,” Gray suggested. Rob Keller, a City College surfer said, “the points in this town are great places to look for surf during the winter, but they show no hope during summer.”

The bottom of the ocean is a factor in what makes for a good surfing beach. For example, when the bedrock is directly parallel to an oncoming swell it slows the swell down, decreasing the size of the waves.

“If the swell runs along the bedrock it can have an increasing effect on the plungers,” Gray said. “I didn’t even think about what was on the bottom,” Keller said.

“I am sure I would find waves if I thought about that.” Summer surf in Santa Barbara is lousy for the most part. But, June can be susceptible to big southwest swells because of winter in the southern hemisphere. Hurricane season off of Baja occurs during August and September.

Santa Barbara rarely is affected by these tropical storms because they move to colder water offshore and away from California.

Even if these tropical storms remain directed at California, the narrow gap between the Channel Islands and Oxnard prevents south swell from generating during the summer months.

With all of this in mind, to score waves during the summer surfers must use their resources. The swell may not be great but if you can get your hands on a geological map, you might have a leg up on the next guy.

–See related story, “Surf riders: Leadbetter sessions, first in a series”

More to Discover