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In the land of the right there exists at least one goofy foot’s last stand.

This week’s UCB makes a winner out of Mauriello taking a break from giving out lessons in good morals and instead throwing down good UCB topics.  He asked I write about a certain little wave that both of us have a spot for in our heart.  A surfing spot like none other.  One that has teeth, one that has its own certain charm of gnarl in and out of the water, a surfers surf spot, Santa Clara River Mouth in Ventura California.   I have decided the best way to explain this place is by giving you a run down of an average summer morning for me.

Summertime

An fun looking morning at the River Mouth

 

River Mouth (that is what the locals call the break) is located about a 45 minute drive south of my home here in Santa Barbara.  On a nautical map it exists a few feet below sea level and sticks out a bit further then most beaches in the area allowing it to pull in swell from all angles and then amplify its intensity thanks to the bottom.  In the Late Spring, Summertime and early fall River Mouth goes off courtesy of south swells that sweep down the beach and usually barrel.  Even if its not hallow the waves still throw out like a mother fucker.  On just the right swell angle the place can almost break like a pseudo left hand point break.

In the summer I have to get up pretty early if I want to score the place without wind.  Although Ventura Harbor, where the River Mouth is located is a swell magnet its also a wind magnet.  Usually by 10 am the wind will get on it and by noon the surf is completely blown out.  River Mouth is not one of those waves that you can surf when its windy.  Most of time it gets so messed up getting a ride is impossible.

My first alarm goes off at around 6am.  I like to call this alarm my ambitious alarm.  It was the time I used be to stoked to get up and surf at when I was really fit and living the surfing lifestyle.  These days I hit the fuck you button usually because I am fighting off a hangover from the night before.  The next alarm goes off at 7am, but usually I field at least two calls from creditors before who I owe money to since my pro surfing career went up in smoke back in 2008.  I mean seriously who would extend a $10,000 credit line to a guy who barely made $20,000 a year?  I think if your that stupid you get what is coming to  you.   My credit rating is fucked for life at this point anyway so I say suck it. Thanks for the wake up call though.

At seven I poke my head out of the covers, but summertime is also fog season meaning more days then not its all grey, damp, cold and nasty out.  This makes getting out of bed rather difficult.  Usually I crawl back under the covers for a spell till Alfie decides he wants breakfast and is all over me meowing, clawing my face, licking my face, basically letting me know if I don’t get up and feed his ass soon I am going to be his breakfast.  Not wanting to be eaten I usually comply by 7:30 unless I’m really hung over and then its every man and beast for themselves.  If I am really hung over it means I drank enough to kill most human beings and I feel so sick that I hope Alfie will eat me alive.

By eight I am finally out of bed.  I pull out my computer and check the buoy readings to see what the day is going to have in store for me.  Driving to River Mouth costs me around $10 in gas round trip so I like to make sure I am actually going to be able to surf.  I am not going to give away the readings I look for cause it took me years to figure that out and it is something that has to be earned.   If things look appealing to me.  I pack my board, suit, booties, fill up my water bottle, grab a banana, brush my teeth then cruise. Usually I hit my boy Ryan up to let him know I am coming if he has yet to get me a surf report.

On the way down I let my ipod shuffle take over.  I skip all the slow tunes only stopping at pump up music.  As I am coming up the hill past Sharks Cove in Montecito I do the look back of death.  Ofcourse it’s flat.  It is summertime and there is no way there is enough north west to break the place.  It is one of my favorite waves so I can’t help but pretend just for a moment that it could be going off.  As I drive by Summerland I check the beachie down there and although too small to surf it is a good indicator of the swell angle.  If things look good there I may pick up the pace.

Then when I get to Carpinteria Santa Clause Lane becomes my next indicator.  This is more or less for both wind and swell size.  If its at least knee high there I know River Mouth will have chest high sets.  If things look good there I pick up the pace even harder.  By this point I am cruising at 80mph weaving in and out of traffic pretending I am in the movie “Ronin” most likely singing at the top of my lungs to whatever music I am blaring.  I have the heat blaring as well cause I hate to be cold before a surf.  It just puts a damper on the whole thing.

Nothing like brown water to make you feel safe and healthy and remind me of home.

At this point my boy Ryan has most likely gotten back to me on what’s up.  His intel is very important cause I have to make a decision once I am past Rincon and La Conchita if I should exit at Sea Cliffs and go surf Emma Wood or continue on to River Mouth.  Rincon and La Conchita are also good indicators as well.  By this point I start getting sleepy and have to pinch myself, pull leg hair, pluck eye brows, whatever it takes to not fall asleep behind the wheel ending up flipped in a ditch somewhere.

Rincon can be a good indicator too if the left up top is breaking.  From there I drive past Stanley’s, Hobsons, Trailers, Father John’s and Pitas. There are usually terrible little waves along all these spots that come winter can be all time. Pitas actually does get south swell it just does not break well on them.  From there I pass the palm tree nursery before getting sight of both the Gold Coast and Emma Wood.  This is the moment of truth right here.  If there are waves at Gold Coast then there are definitely waves at River Mouth.

I drive past Emma Wood and laugh at the near thirty guy crowd.  South of Emma is Ventura Campgrounds or the top of the point at Cstreet.  Depending on how this spot looks I can pretty much tell with absolute certainty if I am going to score.  I always make sure to flip off Cstreet on the way by cause I hate that wave.  I get through the town of Ventura and the stub jetties of the state beaches and Pierpont come into view and always entice me with their siren song of waves that always look good from far but are far from good.

Finally I exit off the 101 and work my way to the Harbor at this point whatever direction those flags are blowing will make or break my morning.  If they are slack then its going to be glassy.  Usually they are blowing north west.  I pull into the Harbor and drive north toward the dunes.  I park in front of the highest dunes that are located halfway between New Jetty and the Surfers Knoll.  From up there I can see all the breaks of Ventura harbor and decide where I want to surf.

My surf check dune.

This dune and I have developed a very personal relationship over the years.  It has seen me jump for joy, cower in fear, vomit from the night before, drop to my knees and cry back when Adrienne and I first broke up.  I have taken many of pisses up there.  There is five years worth of decomposing banana peels up there because I eat my banana while checking the surf.  I have thrown a few angry tantrums up there.  Like I said its my dune.  I once whipped Mauriello really hard with a long dune grass vine and got all mad about it.  In consolation I whipped myself just as hard and he was right it hurt like hell.  I think we both had welts from the whipping for a week or so.

This mornings banana discard.

Looking North you have New Jetty and the far big jetty is South Jetty a wedgey right that almost never breaks and when it does is super hard to surf. New Jetty is one of my favorite waves in the area but unfortunately due to poor sand distribution it has been a deep hole all season.

This is looking south from the dunes. The closest wave is called Surfers Knoll which can be really fun in the late winter early spring, but usually too washy in the summer. Past that is the River Mouth sand bars which stretch about a mile or so south till you get to McGrath State Beach.

If I decide I am surfing River Mouth I repark  my car either in the Knoll lot if it is a week day and uncrowded or in the marina lot across the street if I am looking to be low pro and stealth.  The funny thing about parking in the marina lot is that there are all these no beach parking signs, but everyone parks there any way and they are not “strictly enforced”.  I also like to park in the Marina lot cause there are less crack heads, meth heads, bums and heroin addicts hanging around there.  My old photographer Dave and I once saw the cops come arrest this crack head in the Knoll lot.

It was pretty funny.  The dude broke free and took off to the bath room and flushed his stash.  When he came out there were six cops guns drawn.  Then they took him down with very excessive force.  He made some really strange grunt like squeal when then tackled him to the pavement then bashed his head.  There are robberies in the knoll lot at least once a week if not more.  I just try and stay out of that parking lot.  I have been robbed three times there.  It has gotten to the point where I have hallowed out a spot underneath my driver seat where I stash my phone, Ipod and money.  Its not quite north shore bad where you have to leave your windows down and your car open so they wont get smashed, but there is for sure a large number of degenerates who coagulate in that vicinity.

“Strictly Enforced” ha, the harbor patrol is too busy busting crack heads to worry about parking issues.

There are always sketchy things going on in the parking lot and in the marsh reeds that line the river mouth.  From what I have been told there is pretty much an entire bum civilization back there who feed off all the dead marine life and sea birds that constantly line the beach.  I literally saw five dead birds there today.  Four pelicans and duck.  Last year there were tons of dead seals all over the beach and I once saw a dead dolphin as well.  All the currents flow towards that place and the water quality is far from ideal.

Bum food…another one bites the dust…

Usually I surf a section of sand bars called the Reeds just before the actual river mouth.  I always seem to get my best waves there and its easy to line yourself up because you either sit on the north, south or middle of the reeds.  It is also a bit of a hike from the parking lot and most don’t bother to walk past the first few sand bars.

This is the reeds I like to line up with. Behind those reeds is Bumville.

Sometimes the banks further south in front of the River Mouth can be better on long period swell.  If your willing to walk that far you can be sure to beat most of the crowd.

Hmmm whats that in the far left corner you ask? Let me answer: A power plant and an oil field. Oxnard is a beautiful place.

The Tar

The 805 is constantly riddled with an abundance of tar that naturally and most likely not so naturally courtesy of all the oil rigs seeps up from the ocean floor, coagulates into balls and finds its way to the beaches.  River Mouth is one of those beaches that is especially bad.  Once on the beach the tar heats up from the sun and becomes a gooey mess just waiting for you to step in it.  I have giant tar stains on just about everything I own.  My boards are constantly riddled with the brown mess.  As a matter of fact I stepped in a nice ball of tar yesterday before my session.  

Currently my wax is all black and gooey with tar.  The only way to get tar off is with baby oil which works fine, but also makes the shower floor slippery as hell.  I once went down head over heels nearly hitting my head on the tub faucet.  That would be a really shitty way to be found dead naked on the bottom of the tub in a puddle of blood and baby oil.  The authorities would with out a doubt claim I went out in a crazy freak masturbation mishap.  

Winter Time

In the winter its a whole different ball game out there.

Winter is not really River Mouth’s best season.  For the most part the swell direction of the NW’s seem to just come into there as one giant close out as far as the eye can see.  The water is freezing, colder then any other spot in the area and there is no one around.  Even the bums hunker down for the most part.  The only upside to winter is the Off shores.  Ventura Harbor really kind of is the start of the flat plain that runs all the way till Mugu and as a result hard offshore wind sweeps across the open space grooming the surf.  

You know the winds are going to be good if all you can smell is manure from the fields.  Yeah it stinks but the air in the barrel is always nice.  On the whole even with the winds it is still very closed out and usually on a swell anywhere from double to triple over head and stacked as far as you can see.  If your getting out there you are going to take a serious beating.  You will get pitted, but it will most likely just be a big close out tube.  This is the place where the term PGCB (perfectly good closed out barrels) was coined.  You can read more about that in my “I Heart PGCB’s” blog.  It makes for good wide angle barrel photos except for the fact that the current is so bad out there its nearly impossible to stay with your photog.  Dave and I had many of frustrating sessions where we were both getting worked super hard and did not get one decent shot out of it. 

Usually by late winter some really good sand bars can set up more near the knoll and upper River Mouth.  If it is the right swell with the right tide and the wind is offshore you will get some of the best sessions of your life.  I have had some really amazing session on such.  It can be really frustrating too though if you get there too late.  Lots of times those sand bars only turn on for a few hours at best and if you get it at the end of the window you may get one or two amazing ones and then just be back in close out land.  The rips are really bad on theses bars as well.  You will spend the entire session paddling.  

If your diligent and you get first dibs on a good bank you will have it to yourself for maybe a day or two.  Once word gets out all of Ventura, Oxnard and Santa Barbara will be there.  On the whole these bars only last for a few days anyway before the wind goes bad or too big of a swell comes in and tears it apart.  When it happens it can be all time, as good as anyplace.  Here is a video of possibly the best the River Mouth has ever been courtesy of just the right swell angle, wind, rain and sand. It happened in 2005.  I was lucky enough to get two days of this cause I just happened to be here picking up some boards from Jason Feist over at J7 surfboards.

The reality of the winter is more times then not its nothing more then a big close out and if I am going to drive that far I am most likely going to go surf Hollywood or Oxnard Shores where the banks are a bit better that time of year.  The water quality is very poor in winter due to all the rain run off.

Opening the Mouth

The really cool thing about River Mouth is the fact that it is one of the few unfortified river mouths in a heavily populated area.  There are no jetties or controls on it of any kind.  The water flows under the sand naturally allowing for tons of great banks to get created.  On occasion as a result of heavy rain fall it will burst open and when it does great sand can be created.  That does not always happen.  Sometimes it opens and throws out too much sand ruining the spot for weeks.  If it opens and there is not a good swell direction or bad wind the bars wont form good.  This year we got screwed double.  First the mouth opened up way too far to the south and second when they dredged the harbor, which they do every year the sand from that got badly dispersed completely ruining New Jetty for the entire spring, summer and most likely fall season.

Forget about water quality when it opens.  I have had so many bad sinus infections, diarrhea, fevers and other complications as a direct result of surfing in the black water that is created when it opens.  There ends up being dead frogs, fish, birds, tons of trash that all floats out a river that flows for miles inland.  The pesticide run off from all the farms is intense.  We refer to surfing there during such times as “Brown Town”.  Its pretty disgusting.  If its on its totally worth the chance of contracting Hepatitis though.   

For a while a bunch of locals would get together before a swell and actually dig out the mouth to make good sand.  About three years ago Robert from Roberts Surfboards used to rally the troops to dig it out for every good south swell.  That was one of the best spring/summer seasons out there ever.  Even the fall was sick thanks to all the good sand.  I guess the harbor patrol cracked down on it and the last crew to attempt it got arrested and fined.  I don’t think there has been a dig out attempt since.  In the summer and fall it doesn’t rain so its not going to naturally open.

This barrel was a direct result of a man made river mouth opening. Thanks boys, this day was one of the best I ever had out there. Fall 2010 https://surfingruinedmylife.net/surf-log/2010-sessions/october-10/ 10-29-10 entry.

There you have it, my home away from home Santa Clara River Mouth.  I am sure I just pissed off everyone in the 805 for writing this.  You know what I don’t give a fuck. I am there nearly everyday all summer long and surf the place in both the good, the bad and the ugly.  Its a tough wave to surf.  I would not recommend it to beginners, but more moderate to experts.  There are usually tough currents and rip tides so if your not a strong paddler/swimmer drowning can be an issue.  Its an unprotected beach and out at the River Mouth there is not many people around so getting you medical help will take longer then most spots.

The wave itself is very heavy and even on a two foot day can pack a punch.  I have broken six boards there, creased a handful more and taken some heavy wipe outs.  It is sharky too as any river mouth can be.  Although I have never had an encounter I have heard stories and most of the larger marine mammals that wash up dead on the beach have giant bites taken out from them.  Half seals are not uncommon to see.  The water is murky thus confusing the men in grey suits.  

River Mouth is an acquired taste suited to the elite hard core surfer.  If your dedicated you will score.  If you read this and are stoked to come down for a surf good on ya.  I will gladly hoot you into a wave.  Please show respect and don’t pull up with a van full of dudes like a certain Santa Barbara surf school has been doing.  At Santa Clara the rule of two is in full effect.  Follow the code and I will be more then stoked to get tubed with you.

The lay of the land just to give you an idea of what we are talking about. I took this during a solid south swell last Summer 2011.

This is Christy’s my favorite janky luncheonette in Ventura located right across the street from the River Mouth parking lot. This place is rad all the tables have collages of pictures of their customers under glass. Kooky and I wanted to go put a picture of us under the glass. I still may. Waitresses are surly, customers strange and food incredible. I have ended more then one session there. Yum!

Its not all sunshine and roses out here. If you don’t like mornings then this is what you will be greeted with usually by 11am everyday if not earlier.

This is two trees in Ventura California and where I took that aerial photo of River Mouth. I had been surfing there for years looking back a these trees and always wanted to go up there. Finally I did some exploring and found my way up to them. Its really cool cause from that vantage you can see all the way to Pt.Mugu in the south and Emma Wood in the North. I met some old guy the last time I was there and he said the trees were planted in the late 1800’s so Mariners could find the way to the harbor. Its really cool there and a nice hike. I do it regularly.

Cant afford Christy’s no worries there is plenty of good eating up and down the beach. Looks like someone has already been gnawing on this guy though. Don’t fret I’m sure there are plenty of other dead animals with in striking distance of this unfortunate.


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Picture perfect Lowers. Isn't it grand when things look good on paper?

Ahhh…summertime in Santa Barbara, what a great time to be here according to tour books and international visitors.  If you’re a surfer on the other hand summer it is all about hassle, especially if one decides to keep surfing through the season.  Sure there is the occasional short period wind swell day here and there, but for the bulk of the time the channel is a complete lake.  That is just how the tourists like it here on the “American Riviera”.

Best bet if you surf, go on an extended trip, crash at a friends pad for the season down in Orange or San Diego Counties or find another way to occupy your time.  For me summertime is all about surfing marginal waves for which I drive nearly forty miles each way to get.  There is nothing better then burning $5 a session in gas to go surf garbage.  Ok, its not that bad, I mean most of the time it is far better then what I would be surfing back in NJ this time of year.  I’m just jaded these days.  Five years in California will do that to a person, especially up here where beach breaks are scarce and good points and reefs the norm.

Usually by this time in the summer I have scored a good day at Malibu or Jalama, even a sick day or two at River Mouth.  This year unfortunately that has not been the case.  A good south swell was forecasted for early week and two opportunities for me to get some quality surf for a change presented themselves.  The first a boat trip out to the Channel Islands.  This was the one I really hoped would materialize, but just like that ranch connection that never comes through, it never happened.

Luckily my boy Kevin and his friends, Luis and Jeremy were eager to make the three hour trek south to Trestles just south of San Clemente.  For my non-surfing readers Trestles is one of the most famous surf spots in the United States and one of the top in the world as well.  It is considered by most the hot bed for progressive surfing in the continental US.  Anyone who is anyone has surfed the wave at some point in his/her life.  Its one of those places every serious surfer should visit before death.

Basically Trestles consists of a collection of coble stone reef breaks with in a ten mile span of beach.  Going north to south you have Cottons, a mushy left that can be fun on the right swell direction, wind and tide and usually has the least crowd factor.  Then there is Uppers a rather punchy right with the occasional closed out left that draws a sizable crowd being it is the closest break from the trail.  Following Uppers you have Lowers, the crown jewel of Trestles offering a 50-100 yard wally left and a 100-250+ yard right that although a bit softer allows for just about anything the imagination has in store when it comes to wave riding.

Lowers is always packed with everything form top pros, to hot up and coming groms, to kooks, long boarders and every type of surf tourist you can imagine.  That being said if you just get one or two good ones you will be more then satisfied.  After Lowers you will come to Middles, a collection of mainly closed out bowls that serve up on the right day some fun killable peaks and is a refreshing break from its always crowded counter parts.  The most discouraging thing about Middles is one has to watch lowers peel off perfectly in the distance, while surfing short ended closeouts.

Finally after middles you have Churches, a usually mushy and sectiony right hander more known for long boarding then anything else.  On the right day though the place can fire.  I surfed there about five years ago and it was solid overhead and dredging for easily 150 yards.

I used to fancy all the spots at Trestles, opting to surf Lowers as little as possible just to avoid the horrendous crowds.  These days being a Californian now and a seasoned Rincon aficionado I have become completely desensitized to stupid obnoxious crowds.  I always get my waves eventually anyway and would much rather catch fewer waves that are really good then a bunch of garbage any place else.

We showed up at Lowers Monday (7-11) and it was solid 6-8ft with bigger sets and to my surprise only had about twenty guys on it.  The wind was a little bit funky but there were still great left and rights coming in.  The lefts had more juice then the rights.  I went out there and absolutely frothed for three hours.  I have never surfed out at Lowers and pretty much had my pick of waves.  I mean there was still plenty of scraping and jostling to get the good ones but it was nowhere near as intense as usual.

I went in for lunch and hung out on the beach before paddling back out for the evening glass off session.  The tide had gotten a bit higher, but the surf filled in a little more and it was very clean.  Unfortunately the crowd came in with the tide and it got really shifty.  Between both those factors getting the good ones became very frustrating.  I did manage to snag one huge right I managed around eight turns on and two really fun lefts, one I stuck a crazy vertical tail free thing, where I came completely unglued on the re-entry yet somehow managed to recover and then get three more turns.  The last I had a solid ally-oop.  It was a good day of surfing.

After a double session and an entire day at the beach I was over Trestles and ready to come home.  My compadres unfortunately for me were still stoked.  I soon found myself in my least favorite situation: camping.  We got ourselves a plot over at San Onofre State Beach on the bluffs.  Luckily my boy Kevin had a two man tent and a queen size blow up mattress making the night more bearable.  The boys and I lit a solid camp fire (you know how much I love fire), talked some story, and ate a gigantic pizza made for us by this crazy skin head dude who was completely tattooed from head to toe at a local joint in San Clemente. The pie was surprisingly not bad or I was so hungry it did not matter.  I would bank on the latter.

Next morning thanks to certain lazy members of the group we got a super late start, getting to Lowers after ten.  We parked and walked up from San-O.  Let me give the reader a sound piece of advice: that is not the way to go.  The walk is ten times harder; being one has to trek across hot soft sand for an easy two hundred yards.  To our dismay Lowers was blown to shit and there were easily 75 guys on it, six cameras on the beach, wannabe pros and invidious colored wetsuits everywhere.

I did manage to run into my old photographer Dave Molleck as he was cruising.  It was nice to catch up with him after moving to New Port for more opportunity to make it as a surf photographer.  Not stoked I watched it for over an hour as the sun burned the fuck out of my skin (a fact I am not enjoying today). Finally Kevin and I forced ourselves to give it a go and by far it was the most demoralizing sessions ever.

I have not been in a shit fight for waves like that since last summer at Malibu.  It was a straight up battlefield out there.  I literally had to push a 14 year old hot headed grom off a wave.  I was already up on the left and he stood up to try and backdoor the right.  He yelled at me and I grabbed his arms and sent him off the back.  That was my first good wave out there.  When I was kid I would never challenge a person of higher rank then myself for a wave, alas times have changed.

After about and hour and a half the crowd died and I began getting some really good right-handers.  I had three in row where I banged out 6-10 solid turns.  I would have surfed another two hours but after two and half hours already I was completely strung out from the previous day and all the exhausting lineup jockeying.  As I was getting out Dane Reynolds showed up and absolutely destroyed the place.  I have surfed with Dane a bunch of times, but have never seen him surf Lowers.  The guy made every other surfer out there look like a kook and judging from my knowledge of his ability he was having an off session for him.

I was contemplating another session before cruising, but I was sun burnt, completely enervate and eager to get back up to the “Barb” by a decent hour.  Looking back I probably should have sucked it up and paddled.  This was the first time I had been back at Lowers in three years and I think I am good for another three years.  Give me a good day at Rincon any day.  Winter is coming!!!!!

The reality of surfing Lowers.

The reality of surfing Lowers.


LNF: Lowers Raid! from Lastnamefirst.tv on Vimeo.

 

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Yesterday I wrote a blog about the crazy Rincon session I had entitled “Bad Decisions Lead to Good Outcomes“.  It was a fun little surf tale from what may have been one of the best days I have seen at Rincon this season.  There were a few guys shooting on the beach and occasionally some of the pictures get to the internet.  My boy Brennan once again found a few pictures from the session on SantaBarbaraSurfer.com, they must have put them up after I wrote the blog last night because I actually did check around to see if any photos from the session made it to the internet.  As I always say a picture is worth a thousand words and it is always great to have an idea of what I am talking about when I write this stuff.  There are about six photos of me kooking it on the slide show, but a ton of Bobby killing it and a few other guys getting some nasty ones.  Its worth a check if you have a minute http://www.santabarbarasurfer.com/index.php/news/article/under_the_radar_spring_session_rincon/.  Below is a little slide show I put together of the shots of me from the session.  All pictures taken by Steve Bissell.

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