Feast or Famine: Part 1

By Tom Modugno of Goleta Surfing

If you’ve lived here a while, you know. Surf is not a constant.

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Most of the year, we have to make do with what we got. A lot of the year, that ain’t much.


Most of Goleta’s best are very adept at small wave riding, like Style Master John Shields.

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And another local master, Jack Motter.


In fact, you could say solid surf is almost as rare as rain around here. Well, the new year 2023 was about to change all that…

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Early morning January 5th, 2023. The weather and the surf forecasters were chomping at the bit. Stuff was about to get real. How real is always a guess, even for the “experts”.

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New Years Day brought us a mellow storm with a couple inches, but now a stormy swell was coming in, and some fairly high tides were helping the waves make a mess of the usual spots.

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Poor old G Beach always takes a beating.

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The usual crew had to find a new venue for their 24 ounce meditations.

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As has been the case these last  few years, the old Beachside Cafe took a few on the chin. The real bummer is that new owners were almost ready to open it back up. This will set them back again…

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Down at the west end, the smell of raw sewage filled the air. We could see a group of workers assembling to address the problem.

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In a few days, the dump trucks would return with Montecito rocks and mud.

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The swollen slough rushed out to the sea and Mother Nature was pleased.


By lunchtime, the predicted massive surf was beginning to show up. Stearns Wharf was at max capacity looky-loos. Later that day it would be closed.


And the Breakwater was about at max capacity as well. Eager young surfers lined up like lemmings, waiting to get their nerve up to jump off the cliff.

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But the prize awaiting all these eager contestants really didn’t look all that appealing…

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Sloppy, confused and definitely dirty waves broke mostly outside with a rare momentary barrel appearing.

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The lemmings paddled desperately to find a sweet spot in the jumbled blender of a lineup.

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For some reason the whole scene reminded me of Dante’s Inferno.

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This was the best ride we saw at lunch.

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Later in the day, big, cumbersome waves could be seen from the 217.jan5 5

Large long period lines marched ominously into the bay, paying no heed to the contour of the coastline. A lot of water moving quickly.

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It was fun to watch guys paddle out and quickly be far below their original destination. These are the days you do not want to get your leash wrapped around a rock…

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The point was a great place for a show, but nobody was surfing up top.


Good ole Poles was the place to be, but it was breaking waaay out past any memory of a pole.



Big, slow, long rides that didn’t take you where you wanted to go. If you managed to stay on one long enough, you might end up at the pier.


Which someone must have done, judging by the circling chopper and the fire truck in the parking lot.


January 5th was the dirty, sloppy beginning of a long run of surf.

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The next morning, it was on. All walks of life from all points, north and south, descended upon our coastline.



It was still big and dirty.


But maybe a little more organized.



A steady flow of thick brown waves relentlessly pounding the coast.





Considering the size and the quantity of surfers, close calls were relatively few.




The one clear standout in the crowd was this guy, Simon Murdoch.



He didn’t just stand out because he was catching more waves than everyone else, it was what he did with them after he caught them.


Murdoch seemed to have chosen the right board for the day, that allowed him to make some great drops.




But he was still able to make some radical turns, laying back impossibly far and usually maintaining control.





Wave count, style points and most importantly….


…he appeared to be the surfer having the most fun!


This was just the beginning of a string of swells and storms that were coming our way. To be continued….



Written by tMo

Tom Modugno is a local business owner, surfer, writer, and community activist. He also runs GoletaHistory.com and GoletaSurfing.com

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