Long before it was a world-recognized sport, surfing was a cornerstone of Santa Barbara culture. Today, the cozy beach town is home to both epic surf breaks and some of the sport’s most notable names. Wander down the streets of Santa Barbara and discover what inspired the late Bruce Brown, filmmaker of “Endless Summer” and “Endless Summer II”. 10-time world champion Kelly Slater frequents his place in Montecito. Surf legend Pat Curren calls Santa Barbara home while his son, Tom, transforms the up-and-coming surf scene along with fellow locals, Conner and Parker Coffin. For the ultimate surf legend sighting, you might catch a glimpse of Shaun Tomson, a South African professional surfer, former world champion, environmentalist and author who now calls the Santa Barbara breaks home.
Whether you’re learning to surf in Santa Barbara or want to ride some of the best breaks on the west coast, Santa Barbara is the ideal wave-lover’s base camp with mild tides and moderate ocean temperatures. The season begins to ramp up in the fall but local breaks offer something for every ability level year-round.
THESE POPULAR BREAKS OFFER UP A SWELL TIME:
Rincon Point: If you’ve wandered into a California surf shop, you’ve most likely seen a picture of this famous break, known among surfers as “The Queen of the Coast.” At Rincon Point, waves peel flawlessly for up to half a mile, and has long been a testing ground for surfboard technology and design by Santa Barbara’s most famous surfers and shapers.
Leadbetter Point: Looking to find beginner breaks? Leadbetter Point is a great place to steady your surf legs. Providing small breakers, this downtown location is just west of Santa Barbara Harbor, across the street from Santa Barbara City College.
Campus Point: Located at the University of California, Santa Barbara, this aptly named surf spot has a great break for novices. Although a relatively mellow surf spot, winter swells can produce classic top to bottom barrels (perfect waves) off this shale-layered point.
Sandspit: This surf spot is best in winter, but is not a location for novices. Ideally situated at the Santa Barbara Harbor, Sandspit waves break with heavy backwash and long-spinning tubes.
El Capitán State Beach: One of the best cobblestone point breaks in California is a mere fifteen miles northwest of Santa Barbara. El Capitán produces hollow waves (tube rides) when a good-sized west swell reaches around the Channel Islands.
The Channel Islands: There are a myriad of “secret” surf spots in and around the Channel Islands National Park for expert-level surfers. Exposed breaks, swift currents, and rocky reefs make surfing at this location very dangerous.
Jalama Beach Park: For surfers looking for a bit of a challenge, head to Jalama Beach Park. Just north of Point Conception and quite a bit off the beaten path, Jamala Beach Park is often exposed to high wind conditions. Jalama features both beach and reef breaks, and the dramatic conditions require experience and higher skill levels.
LEARNING CURVE: SURF LESSONS & CAMPS
For beginners in search of instruction before diving in, Santa Barbara offers a variety of surf schools, seasonal camps and private instruction options for all ages. We’d recommend: Santa Barbara Surf School, Surf Happens and Santa Barbara Adventure Company.
SURFING GEAR AND RENTALS
Skip the hassle of traveling to Santa Barbara with your board. Instead, rent at a local surf and outdoor gear shop, where knowledgeable staff can help outfit you with gear and apparel or set you up with lessons. We’d recommend: Paddle Sports Center.
If you’re looking for an alternative to this sunny sport, give stand-up paddle boarding (or SUPing) a try. The area offers a variety of great places to learn. Test your balance on these ultra-long boards at beginner-friendly spots like Butterfly Beach, West Beach or East Beach.
There’s no question that the surf’s up in Santa Barbara year-round. Grab your board or rent one and experience the famous breaks along Santa Barbara’s South Coast.