The Rincon Point swell of 1969 is remembered as one of the greatest swells in Santa Barbara surfing history. Firsthand written accounts by surfing legends George Greenough and Mike Davis and epic photos of the extraordinary surfing conditions that day propelled the story to global status.
Legends of the Rincon Point Swell of 1969
On December 5, 1969, a massive swell hit the coast of California. The swell generated waves that were estimated to be as high as 20 feet, drawing surfers from all over the world to the iconic Rincon Point break in Ventura County. The swell was considered one of the largest and most powerful ever recorded at the time and marked a significant turning point in the history of surfing, ushering in a new era of big wave surfing techniques and surfboard technologies.
The swell brought in massive, perfect waves that attracted some of the best surfers of the time, including Greenough and Davis. Greenough, known for his innovative surfboard designs and unique style of riding, was in awe of the swell. "The waves were just unbelievable," he said in an interview with Surfer Magazine. "They were so big and powerful, yet so perfectly formed. It was like nothing I had ever seen before."
As the swell continued to build throughout the day, Greenough and Davis made their way out to the lineup. The two were known for their fearless approach to riding big waves. Greenough was riding a board he had designed himself, known as the "spoon." The board was shorter and wider than the typical surfboard of the time, and it allowed him to maneuver in a way that was not possible with traditional boards. "The spoon allowed me to get closer to the wave, and to really feel the power of the swell," Greenough said.
Davis, on the other hand, was riding a more traditional surfboard, but his style was no less impressive. In Davis’ book Outside Reef at Rincon 1969, Davis comments on a photo capturing him riding a wave estimated by Santa Barbara Surf Shop surfboard shaper Renny Yater to by 27-30’. Davis recalls other fellow surf legends out at Rincon Point that day, including Yater, Stu Frederiks, Miki Dora, along with Carpinteria local surfers Jeff Boyd and Kevin Sears.
Santa Barbara Surfing Memories of 1960's Rincon Point
As the day went on, the waves continued to grow in size and power. Greenough and Davis rode wave after wave, pushing the limits of what was thought to be possible on a surfboard. They were truly in their element, riding the waves with grace and skill. "It was like nothing I had ever seen before," Greenough said. "The energy of the waves was just incredible. It was like a force of nature, and we were just riding on the back of it."
The swell continued to build throughout the afternoon, and by the evening, the waves were reaching heights of over 20 feet. It was a sight to behold, and the surfers who were lucky enough to be out there that day will never forget the experience.
As the sun began to set, Greenough caught the final wave of the day, which he later dubbed the “Fantasy Wave.” According to Greenough’s account, he caught the wave about 7000 feet outside of Rincon Cove and rode it all the way in just as darkness set in. "It was a day that I will never forget," Greenough said. "The waves were just so perfect. It was like nothing I had ever seen before."
The Rincon Point Swell of 1969 was a true test of skill and bravery for the surfers who rode its massive waves in previously unthinkable oceanographic conditions. The swell was so powerful that it actually shifted the sand on the ocean floor, creating a new break at Rincon Point. This new break, which was known as "The Point," quickly became a mecca for surfers looking to test their skills against the biggest and best waves on the planet.
The epic swell and the surfers that conquered these unprecedented waves also marked a turning point in the history of surfing. Prior to this event, surfing was still considered a relatively niche sport, with only a small community of dedicated enthusiasts. Media coverage of the Rincon Point Swell helped to bring the sport into the mainstream, and surfing quickly became a global phenomenon.
In the decades that followed, Rincon Point continued to be a popular spot for surfers from all over the world. Many professional surfers, including the likes of Kelly Slater and Tom Curren, have made their mark at Rincon Point, and it remains one of the most iconic and respected surf breaks in the world.