Traveling cross country on Delta Airlines, Hannah and I come to the mid-California coast of Santa Barbara for an extended break from Maine’s winter. During our first week on the Left Coast, we return to an old favorite – The Bluff Trail around the University of California, Santa Barbara campus in Goleta, CA.
Parking at the Goleta State Park Beach, we see big time, high tide waves crashing on and over the stone boulder retaining wall into the parking lot. As we walk towards campus, we hear sirens, then see a red fire fighter SUV pulling two wave runners, and don’t think much of it.
Walking the half mile to the campus, we stop to see that there are indeed surfers out in the turbulent waters. Stopping to watch against a fence feet away from the slowly disintegrating bluff, we talk to a young man who tells us that he heard a surfer in distress below and called 9-1-1. (Ah, the towed wave runners make sense now).
At high tide, there is no beach. In fact, the bluff walls are unforgiving stone facades with nowhere to go. As we watch, the distressed surfer paddles back out to avoid being a crash test dummy against the stone cliff. The fire fighter wave runner streams from the Goleta Beach to the obviously hurting surfer.
At the same time the wave runner approaches, another surfer with a paddle board heads further out to sea. Beyond are fifteen other surfers, paddle boarders, and one with what looks like a mini-kayak riding the wild surf.
All’s well that ends well for the surfer as the fire fighters secure his board and pull him to shore at the far beach away from the bluff. Talking with another surfer as he ascends the stairway up the cliff side, he tells us that this is as wild a surf as he has ever seen in the area. He feels good surfers can handle these waves; left unsaid was the rescued surfer was not in that category.
His surfing buddy tells us that typically surfers get in trouble because they are totally exhausted from fighting the rip currents and the relentless incoming tides.
We learn later that there were five rescues this first Wednesday of the new year, including one by helicopter. Thankfully no deaths are reported.
Should the surfer have to pay for the rescue? I am in the “no” camp. Shit happens. Mistakes are made. That’s why we pay taxes. California has services for its citizens and its visitors in distress (e.g. free ambulance service to emergency rooms that Hannah took advantage of after her fall two years ago).
With the drama behind us, we continue our bluff hike, forty to sixty feet above the surf. (See pictures below.) Ah, to be in California.