Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Surf Break Maps: Rincon Point, Santa Barbara, California

Rincon Point is another one of the great waves along the Coast of Southern California. Rincon can get so good on certain swells that it is sometimes considered to be one of the world’s better point breaks.

Located just south of Carpentaria, in Santa Barbara County, Rincon is what you would consider a classic point break…in fact they probably thought up the term “point-break” as they were watching waves peel down the line into the Cove.

The wave itself is created by the shape of the coast along Rincon Point (Duh). The point’s headland, which is oriented facing mostly to the west, gradually extends out to sea and then abruptly swings back toward the main coastline. As the coast along the point swings back, parts of the beach face an almost SE facing direction…this area, which bleeds off towards highway 101, is generally known as the cove.

Rincon the surf spot is actually made up of 3 main sections. The Indicator, the Rivermouth, and the Cove. These sections are actually more apparent on smaller swells or when a swell isn’t really pure (I.E. when the energy is coming in from a mix of directions and swell periods). While it would be nice if Rincon always connected from the top of the point to the inside it is probably better that it has some imperfections. The transitions between these sections allow the crowd to spread out a little bit…and when the waves get a bit wally or sectiony it allows someone further down the line to poach a corner now and then. If it ran straight through you would have guys burning each other like crazy all the time, which would probably lead to death duels on the sand or something else equally ridiculous.

Rincon is at its best when it gets a large medium-long period W swell. The waves set up at the indicator, speed up (and get hollow) through the Rivermouth section, and then open into a fully ripable wall as you move down the line into the cove. If a swell is connecting just right it is possible to land a wave that connects for almost 300-350 yards and dumps you near the rocks by the highway. (Personally when I have had the fortune of catching a wave like that, I just get out of the water, walk up the trail, and go home…I don’t want to ruin the experience by failing to do what I just did…it always ends in frustration).

One of the cool things about Rincon is that it can handle a lot of swell…and while it does get large up at the Indicator the wave size drops off pretty fast as you move towards the inside. Like many point-breaks it is very possible to see a double-overhead set breaking along the top of the point but then have that same wave turn into chest-shoulder high as it hits the inside sections.

Rincon, like many points, handles the wind very well. So while light and variable winds, or light offshore winds, are the ideal wind direction Rincon doesn’t totally blow out as winds shift more N-NW’erly. In fact the inside section can stay very surfable even winds are blowing from the generally junky NW direction.

Spot details:
Best swell direction: W (260-280 degrees)
Best Wind: NE-E, light Santa Ana or light and variable winds
Sea Floor: Rock…mostly cobblestones
Best Season: Late Fall through early Spring
Crowds: You can see it from the 101…there are lots of people on it when it is breaking. It can get outright ridiculous on medium to large swells.

Consistency and the different swell seasons

Rincon is a weird wave when it comes to consistency. It stays rideable most of the winter but it only gets really good a handful of times each winter season. It can be rideable both spring and fall but if you don’t have any W swell in the water it won’t be working. The summer is basically flat…but there are times when windswell, or a really large S-SE swell will set up a few waves around the area, (the S swells will set up a few lefts along the top of indicator).

Forecasting Surf for Rincon

Forecasting for Rincon isn’t as straight-forward as you would think. Swell period and direction play very important roles in wave heights for the point.

Swell period in particular screws a lot of people over. Check out this scenario…you see a big-ass storm on the charts setting up a large WNW swell. The swell direction looks great, all the swell models are showing huge blobs of red, and you are totally freaking out. “It is going to be like 12-foot at Rincon…I am going to riding waves that last 10 minutes long!” You jam up there, C-street is pumping, Pitas is pumping, and then you pull up to Rincon (or any other spot north of there), and it is chest-shoulder high at best. Seriously WTF!

WTF = swell period. Most times, when we are getting a big WNW swell it also means that the swell periods are pretty long, generally 16-seconds or longer. What happens is that there is this semi-shallow sea-shelf that extends off of Point Conception. When the swell period is too great, (even if the swell direction is perfect for Rincon), the long-period energy feels that shelf and starts to wrap into the coast…so instead of that swell energy ending up in Santa Barbara or Rincon it ends up getting pulled into spots on the Ranch (those lucky bastards…like they need any extra help).

A swell needs to have a shorter-period, usually below 15-seconds. Once it gets low enough the energy skips over that shelf without touching it and proceeds to hit the Santa Barbara spots with its full energy. You need a storm to be rather close to send out swell periods in that range because if the storm is far away those periods will decay out of the swell train. Close storms generally only happen in the winter and early spring, which limits the time frame a ton.

This does become less of a problem as the swell turns more W and WSW…since the swell window is more open these swell directions make it through on longer swell-periods than WNW swells do.

Here is a little illustration that shows what I am talking about.


Anonymous said...

awsome info thx

Rob said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Rob said...

Awesome info. I wish you detailed all of the SB spots as well.