Defending Rincon Point from the LA Hordes: 1970's Santa Barbara Surfing History

From the annals of the legendary surf history of Rincon Point, here is a 1970’s story from influential surfer and board shaper Bruce Fowler. Bruce left his mark on Santa Barbara surfing history as the Surf 'n Wear surf shop store manager and Owl surfboard shaper at the downtown location of Surf ‘n Wear in the 1970’s.


Rincon Point Surf History: Keeping the Crowds at Bay

Here's Bruce’s Rincon Point story:

“When I was at Surf n’ Wear we used to do the surf reports on the radio,” Fowler remembers. “KTYD was okay. But I had reservations with KLOS from Los Angeles.” 

When the LA radio station asked for their own report, Fowler naturally worried about a resulting influx at Rincon from LA. But the exposure for the shop was tempting to ownership. One day Fowler dutifully got up early to eyeball Leadbetter ahead of his report. Seeing it was firing, he made the run to Rincon Point to enjoy perfect four- to six-foot waves until getting back to Santa Barbara in time to open the downtown Surf 'n Wear shop at 9 a.m. 

Rincon Point Surfing

A photograph of Bruce Fowler by Rincon Point surf photographer Steve Bissell. 

“When it came time to record the KLOS call, something came over me and I did my usual intro knowing I was the last of the sequence of surf reporters: ‘And up in Santa Barbara this is Fowler at Surf n’ Wear and I gotta tell everyone I am shocked that the swell is missing here! I was just at Rincon, and it was a bumpy, crossed-up two feet at best. If you’re driving from afar, save your time and gas, and have a great weekend... Hooyah!’”

By midday, somebody had called in to KLOS to rat Fowler out for his “bogus” surf report. “Jeff (White) [Surf 'n Wear  surf shop and Owl Surfboards founder] was furious at me,” say Fowler, “but I just bit my lip and sucked it up.” Fortunately, all came right the next day when a favorite Surf n’ Wear customer came in and mentioned the surf report. Fowler confessed that he was in White’s doghouse for his stunt until “Jeff came out of his office to get coffee from Aloha Burgers. The customer greeted Jeff by praising Fowler’s efforts on behalf of Rincon locals, keeping the LA hordes at bay and (crucially) noting that everyone at Rincon that day were big store customers. All was suddenly right! 

Besides the charm of Fowler’s effort on behalf of LA-weary Rincon locals, the story is also a quaint flashback to the pre-Surfline era when info about good surf was passed along (or not) depending on whether the news might make for crowded local conditions. As this anecdote suggests, Fowler has been a popular member of the surfing community for decades. For photographer Steve Bissell, for example, who gloriously documented on film the 70’s and 80’s local surf scene at Rincon, Fowler was a favorite subject, for his talent, photographability and great attitude. For a glimpse back in time to that era, see the above photograph of Bruce from Steve.

Owl surfboards t-shirt


Fine print: Some highlights from Bruce Fowler’s surfboard shaping career: shaping for the Owl Sufboards brand, then design and manufacture of high-performance sailboards and sailboats with Bob Krause. These days he manufactures boards both under his own brand and private labels. 

Thank you to Rincon Point Surf History historian and author Vince Burns for this guest post.

Vince Burns and Stephen Bates have just published a photographic history of Rincon Point with Arcadia Publishing, which is cleverly titled Rincon Point. It is available locally, including at Surf n’ Wear's Beach House and on Amazon here.

Rincon Point Surfing History