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The Ultimate Santa Barbara Surf Guide

The entire Santa Barbara area has a DNA of surfboard shapers, with pioneers from Reynolds Yater to Channel Island's Al Merrick pushing the limits of surfboard styles and designs. 


During the summer months, Santa Barbara is typically flat as the south swells are blocked by the Channel Islands that sit just west of the coastline. 


While the water remains frigid year-round, the quality and variety of waves are extensive.


Santa Barbara Surf Guide 





Waves in Santa Barbara 


The luxury of Santa Barbara lies in its vast surf scene, offering breaks of all kinds. Surfers can choose from a peaky right-hand point break, a hollow slab, or a mushy, crumbly wave perfect for longboarding. Here, you can expect to find anything from waist-to-chest-high waves to double overhead sets.


Surf Culture at Santa Barbara 

Santa Barbara boasts an extensive surf history marked by pioneering approaches to surfing, style, and board design.


Some argue that Santa Barbara, alongside Australia, served as the birthplaces of the modern surf industry, showcasing designs and concepts ahead of their time.


Reynolds Yater, a renowned shaper who established his headquarters in Santa Barbara, introduced the thinnest and lightest boards on the market during the 1950s, famously known as the Yater Spoon.

For a comprehensive view of Santa Barbara's surf culture, consider watching the surf film "Spoons: A Santa Barbara Story."


Gear Needed to Surf In Santa Barbara 

From December to May, the water is very cold, averaging around 55.0°F, requiring a 4/3 mm wetsuit.


The warmest water temperature is from August to September, averaging 61.7°F, necessitating a 4/3mm or 3/2mm wetsuit.


Locals prefer wetsuit hoods and booties in the winter.


Whether you longboard, shortboard, boogie, or skimboard, you will always be able to find a spot to surf in Santa Barbara, except during the summer, when it tends to be flat.


The Best Waves in Santa Barbara 

Spot 1: Rincon Point


Rincon Point is one of the best right-hand peeling waves, iconic and arguably the finest wave in the area. If you've ever seen an aerial view, it resembles a surfer's paradise with endless lines.


The break is situated directly in front of Rincon Point Road.

The ideal swell direction is W/WSW/WNW, with periods under 15 seconds.


Offshore winds blow from N/NE and work best on a low tide. However, being the premier wave in the area comes at the cost of being the most crowded. Beware of loose surfboards and beginner surfers who may not be fully aware of their surroundings.


Spot 2: Hammond’s Reef


Hammond’s Reef sits just off El Camino Real. This is a heavy and powerful wave that is not for beginners. It has a rocky reef that can be sketchy on low tides. It is a long right-hander that is set up for back-to-back carves. The best swell direction is W/WSW, and the period is under 15 seconds. The wind blows offshore from W/NE.


Spot 3: Tarpits

Just south of the parking lot that sits slightly north of Tar Pits Park, Tarpits is an exposed beach and reef break that holds both consistent lefts and rights. On strong west swells, it can become a hollow barrel. It works on W/NW/SSE swells with winds from the northeast and a high tide or going high.


Spot 4: El Capitan


It is one of the best right-point breaks in California. El Capitan is reminiscent of Lowers but not as consistent; both have a cobblestone break, with long sweeping rights ideal for endless carves. Both can barrel at times.


It is located just south of the El Capitan State Beach parking lot. To catch this break pumping, it needs a W/WSW swell with wind blowing offshore from NE/N and a low tide.


Spot 5: Leadbetter

Located on the northmost point at Leadbetter Beach, this right-hand curler wraps off the rocks on the shoreline near the La Marina road.


The best swell is WSW/W, with NW wind and on a medium to high tide. It can reach head-high on large west swells.


What To Do In Santa Barbara When the Waves Are Flat 


Whether the waves are flat or you want to take the family and kids on an adventure, the greater Santa Barbara area has plenty to offer. 


Take a hike at the historic Cold Spring Tavern, go visit the various Channel Islands, take a stroll through the vineyards of local wineries, or be in awe at the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History.


The Bottom Line: Surfing in the Santa Barbara

Santa Barbara is a beautiful city that exudes beachside-town vibes.


When the waves are on, it can be one of the best spots in California; just watch out for the crowds, sharks, and locals. 


It is also very youthful, as the University of Santa Barbara is there and might be the most aesthetic campus on the entire West Coast.

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