Long, elegant right-breaking point wave located on the border between Ventura and Santa Barbara counties; nicknamed "Queen of the Coast," and regarded as America's gold-standard pointbreak. "At times the wave is so close to perfection," surf journalist Bill Cleary wrote of Rincon del Mar (Little Corner of the Sea) in 1966, "that maneuvering—nose rides, turning and cutbacks—seems inappropriate, an insult to the dignity of the wave."
Rincon breaks best from late fall to early spring, during the west and northwest swell season, and is composed of three overlapping sections. 1) Indicator, located at the top of the point, produces a bigger, thicker wave that often runs for 75 yards before hitting a section in front of the Rincon Creek rivermouth. 2) The Rivermouth, or Second Point, marginally smaller than Indicator, breaks for about 50 yards. 3) The Cove, in the lee of the point, is the premier Rincon break; smaller, thinner, and less powerful than Indicator or the Rivermouth, but far longer—up to 300 yards—and so perfectly tapered as to be nearly hypnotic. All three breaks at Rincon improve as the tide drops; tube sections often appear at low tide. (Backside Rincon, a modest left-breaking spot located just north of Indicator, is a summer wave.)
Rincon is best from four to eight foot; it can get up to 12 foot, but waves of that size are often stormy or weather-beaten. Five-hundred-yard-long, 90-second rides from the Indicator through to the Cove are rare but possible on bigger swells.
Rincon has been viewed since the early '50s as the winter counterpart to Malibu, the famous Los Angeles County pointbreak located 75 miles to the south, but while the Malibu surfing experience is warm and sun-washed, Rincon is usually chilly, with air temperatures in the 50s or low 60s and water temperatures in the low to upper 50s. Crowded since the early 1960s, Rincon on a good day will see as many as 200 surfers out at once. Sewage runoff has also been a problem: the Rincon surf was declared off-limits 84 times by county officials between 1996 and 1998 due to high fecal bacteria counts.
Santa Barbara County lifeguard Gates Foss is credited as the first to surf Rincon, in either 1938 or 1939; he called the break "Three Mile," as it was located three miles below the town of Carpinteria. After World War II, Rincon became popular with all of the top Malibu surfers, including Bob Simmons, Joe Quigg, and Matt Kivlin, then later Mickey Dora, Lance Carson, and Kemp Aaberg. (Quigg designed what many people regard as the first specialized big-wave surfboard in 1948, after waking from a dream in which he had connected a wave from the Rivermouth into the Cove.) By the early '60s, local surfer Renolds Yater had developed what would later be identified as the Santa Barbara point-surf style, riding with a cool minimalism. Protohippie Bob Cooper, another influential Rincon surfer of the period, was more flamboyant.
Kneerider and surfboard builder George Greenough, from the wealthy Santa Barbara enclave of Montecito, used Rincon as a test track for board designs and surfing maneuvers that would lead directly to the late-'60s shortboard revolution. In December 1967, Australian surfer-designer Bob McTavish made the first California-built shortboard while visiting Greenough, and rode it at Rincon during a monumental six-week run of surf.
Future world champions Tom Curren and Kim Mearig began surfing Rincon in the mid-1970s, riding boards made by Santa Barbara surf shop owner and design-guru-in-the-making Al Merrick. As of 2013, Rincon standouts included Dane Reynolds, Travis Adler, and Bobby Martinez.
Rincon was included in Surfing magazine's 1981 list of the "Ten Best Waves in the World." In Surfer magazine's "100 Best Waves in the World" article, Rincon polled at #19.
With the exception of a few local events, including the Rincon Classic and the Clean Water Classic, Rincon residents have kept the point off-limits to surfing competitions. Rincon has appeared in more than 40 surf movies and videos over the decades, including Surf Crazy (1959), Inside Out (1965), Pacific Vibrations (1970), Fluid Drive (1974), Amazing Surf Stories (1986), Powerglide (1995), Super Slide (1999), and One California Day (2007).