The official start of summer is still a month away but the US west coast has already seen a number of substantial south swells, including the historic event in early May that saw the Ceremonial at Punta Lobos run and delivered the biggest waves ever ridden at Escondido.
While this run of early southern hemi swells bodes well for a good summer in California, the Golden State’s storied coastline was threatened yesterday by an oil spill near Refugio State Park. Approximately 21,000 gallons of crude oil spilled from a broken pipeline Tuesday afternoon, pouring through a culvert and into the ocean for several hours before the pipeline was secured. As of Wednesday morning, two separate oil slicks covered nine miles of coastline in widths up to four miles. Coast Guard and other clean up crews are currently working to contain the disaster.
Talk in the lineup at Rincon Wednesday morning reflected a general concern at the impact the spill would have on one of California’s best waves. Refugio is a popular camping area, and expects a capacity crowd for the Memorial Day holiday weekend. A long period south swell is also scheduled to hit mid-weekend, but the conditions at local beaches are likely to be toxic.
Santa Barbara lies just to the south of Refugio, and is home to the iconic point break at Rincon, known by many as “The Queen of the Coast.” Meanwhile, just north of the spill site is the fabled "Ranch,” a controversial stretch of private, limited-access coastline that houses a number of legendary waves. How these surf zones will be affected by the oil spill remains to be seen. While only Refugio and El Capitan beaches are currently closed, talk in the lineup at Rincon Wednesday morning reflected a general concern at the impact the spill would have on one of California’s best waves.
Santa Barbara Channel and the Channel Islands represent one of the most biologically diverse ecosystems in Southern California. Officials estimate that the clean up effort will take at least three days, and that the area’s natural wildlife population could be drastically affected by the disaster. Santa Barbara Channel and the Channel Islands (which are visible offshore) represent one of the most biologically diverse ecosystems in Southern California, and contain a number of fragile, unique species. Migratory whales, including endangered humpbacks and blue whales are currently in the area, as are grey whales migrating from Alaska to Baja. The region is also home to dozens of oil platforms, which are visible on the western horizon between Santa Barbara and the Channel Islands.
Southern California is home to a number of the world’s best-known waves, including Rincon, Malibu, Lower Trestles, San Onofre, and Huntington Beach. The coastline between San Diego and Santa Barbara has played an integral role in surfing’s history, and is home to the US surf industry, with many brands, publications, and professional contests located in the region. But it is also one of the most crowded surf zones on the planet.
The Greater Los Angeles area is the second-largest urban region in the US, with over 18 million inhabitants. Southern California as a whole has been the focus of much environmental debate this year, as the naturally arid region is in the midst of a debilitating drought. The oil spill at Refugio only serves to emphasize the ecological fragility of this coastline and the unfortunate but often inevitable environmental implications of large, overpopulated metropolises, particularly in naturally inhospitable regions.