One of the best waves in California, Rincon Point, finds its home in Santa Barbara County, putting Santa Barbara on the map for surfers everywhere. However, the waves are always changing as the ocean is unpredictable. Santa Barbara can go from as flat as a lake to the perfect swell in just a few days. Santa Barbara Surf; Dreamy or Dreadful? I wish I could provide a simple answer but Santa Barbara surf is not quite that simple. To understand the surf in Santa Barbara it is important to notice some external factors. These include time of year, the direction of the swell, wind and the tide. These factors are what make or break your surfing experience.
Santa Barbara Surf Directory:
Dreamiest Time to Surf in Santa Barbara
Get out your wetsuits and booties because the best time of year to find consistent waves in Santa Barbara is wintertime. This is because of the direction of the swell during the winter months and winter storms that bring bigger and better waves. Although Santa Barbara is beautiful in the summertime, finding good surf can be dreadful if you don’t know where to look for it.
If you’re new to surfing and want to learn how to surf, you can always book a surf lesson with us! We will help you find where the waves are during all seasons, learn how to surf and provide you with a surfboard and wetsuit.
Santa Barbara is a unique place to surf because of the location of the Channel Islands. The Channel Islands block most south swells during the summer months which means that the waves are often flat or very small. Northwest swells, however, start rolling in around the fall and winter months and bring with them perfect waves.
Both extreme high and low tides are not good for the quality of waves in Santa Barbara. If you surf an extreme low tide, it becomes difficult to find powerful waves and more rocks reveal themselves making your surfing experience much more dangerous. If you surf an extreme high tide, the waves have a harder time breaking and are harder to catch. The best time to surf is when a tide is changing; particularly from low to high and not extreme.
Another force of nature to keep in mind while checking the surf is wind. There are two different types of wind: onshore wind and offshore wind. Onshore wind blows from the sea to the shore which is bad for waves because it makes them less defined and weak. Offshore wind is good wind because it blows from the shore to the ocean which helps shape the waves.
Preparing to Surf Santa Barbara Winter
Putting the pieces together, the best time to surf in Santa Barbara is in the wintertime when there is a northwest swell, the tide is changing from low to high, and the wind is blowing offshore.
How does one prepare for the cold water and know the direction of swell and state of the tide?
Preparing for cold water can be done and can greatly improve one’s surfing experience. Two ways to prepare for cold water are to find the right wetsuit and wear booties. Different thicknesses of suits offer different heat insulating features. These thicker suits are what will keep you warm on those cold winter surf days in Santa Barbara. The most popular thickness of a wetsuit in Santa Barbara is a 4/3 which is meant to keep someone warm in water that is 53 degrees to 60 degrees Fahrenheit. If you run extra cold and want to make sure you are warm surfing in Santa Barbara, throwing on some 3mm booties will do just the trick.
There are a few great tools many surfers use to know everything they can about the water before packing their boards and heading out. One of these is a website and app called Surfline. Surfline displays the tide, swell direction, wave height, water temperature, and daily surf report. Some surf spots on Surfline have live cameras attached to them. This gives people the ability to use their device to see the surf and watch the ocean in real time. This is helpful because it allows the surfer to know whether or not the conditions will be good enough to surf.
Another helpful tool many surfers use is an app and website called Magicseaweed. Magicseaweed is similar to Surfline and offers most of the same information. It is helpful to use both websites because they will each offer you a slightly different report of the same surf break. Comparing and contrasting the two will allow the surfer to get the most accurate account of what the surf is actually like.
After you have checked the surf on these apps or websites, it’s always a good idea to pack up your board, pick a couple of your favorite surf spots, and do an in person surf check!
Surfing Santa Barbara Summertime
Although winter is the dreamiest time to surf in Santa Barbara because of the more consistent waves and better swell, summertime surfing isn’t always as dreadful as it seems. The waves are smaller and the swells are less consistent but there are a few breaks that will still have waves. The best way to find waves during this time of year is to go south of Santa Barbara. Spots like Mondos, C-street, and Ventura Harbor are most likely to have waves even during these slower summer months!
Where to Surf in Santa Barbara?
Now that you know the best time of year and conditions to surf in Santa Barbara let’s talk about where to surf!
Rincon: Rincon is a classic point break that has the best waves on a Northwest swell. People from all over the world come to surf this famous break because of its long rides and consistent waves.
Hammond’s Reef: Hammond’s Reef is just north of Rincon and the perfect reef break. On a good swell, Hammond’s produces really fun and quick waves.
Leadbetter: Leadbetter is the perfect long board break. It has nice and slow waves that are easy catch and super fun. Many beginners love this spot because the waves are soft and consistent.
Devereux: Devereux is a sweet long board wave that has great shape. This wave is long and smooth. It is perfect for surfers of all different levels
Sands: Sands is right next to Devereux and is a bit of a steeper, shorter wave that is perfect for short boarders.
Campus Point: Campus Point is a sweet right break with a laid back community of surfers that call it home.
I hope you enjoyed reading about Santa Barbara surf! My goal is to give you better understanding of how to find good waves while you’re in town. Santa Barbara surf can either be dreamy and super fun or dreadful and non-existent. Once you find a good time to surf in Santa Barbara, you will get to see and experience the surf community and culture. Surfing is a great way to meet some kind locals and really appreciate this beach town.
Have you surfed in Santa Barbara? Please share your experience or questions in the comments below!