Flip through surf mags from the early- to mid-‘80s and you’ll likely come across the photographs of Jimmy Metyko. A Santa Barbarian by way of Texas, a graduate of Brooks Institute, Metyko shot a lot of Tom Curren, Davey Smith, and Willy Morris at spots like Rincon, Ventura Overhead, and Santa Clara Rivermouth. I obsessed over those images. These were the surfers I admired riding the very breaks I surfed.
That was half a lifetime ago. Then, just the other night, I stumbled across Metyko’s Instagram feed and there it is, the Curren rebound, the Kim Mearig swoop off the bottom, the Channel Islands team workout, that whole fabulous body of work, a time capsule. Not only are the images highly transportive, but his words capture the innocence and wonder of that era as well. I got in touch with Metyko and asked him to do a kind of extended Instagram post about a day that reached mythical proportions in my teens. He very kindly obliged—
That particular morning our strike team fragmented before the day had barely begun, two carloads setting off from Santa Barbara in different directions with the pretense that maybe we would meet up somewhere later in the day.
Rincon was showing two-foot dribble with an evil, onshore SE wind, so it didn’t appear to be a serious surf day. In fact there had been plenty of swell lately, and a day of rest was actually welcomed. Matt George, Jimmy Redmon, my high school surf buddy from Texas, and I headed back to Santa Barbara for a little breakfast at Esau’s on Lower State Street. Mornings where you didn’t have to worry about the surf and could enjoy a good breakfast bloat at Esau’s were special.
Unbeknownst to us, a new winter pulse had been building all night, with long-interval swells running perfectly straight down the channel, missing Rincon all together and finding its focus at that freshly bulldozed rivermouth further south.
Unlike the region’s much better shaped beach breaks to the north and south, this little wild stretch of straight beach was known more for giant winter closeouts than anything else and wasn’t ordinarily on our radar, so focused were we on the Queen of the Coast. How, then, could we have known that during all of the previous night the river, normally blocked by low dunes, had been flowing out into the sea, depositing metric tons of sand into the arms of a rapidly-building swell? In any case, after downing a few of Esau’s huge omelets, and with not much else to do, we decided to head down to Ventura and take a look.
At the same time surf-savvy Mrs. Sandra Morris was waiting for the tide to drop, watching her youngest son Willy playing Ping-Pong with Sam George at an outdoor table at the beautiful old Miramar Beach Hotel, set directly aside the Amtrak railway tracks that run the length of this region of the coast. This scenario in itself is bizarre, yet it became much more so when, following one of Willy’s wicked slices, the Ping-Pong ball was caught in the slipstream of the passing Coastal Starlight Express and sucked under the grinding wheels. Sucked under and eventually spat out the far side, covered in grease yet unscathed, uncrushed. Two observations: First, the absurdity of playing a quick game of post-breakfast Ping-Pong next to a train track at a posh beach resort is so very Montecito. Second thing to note, and without getting too mystical about it, is how the wise are sensitive to the small flutters that precede great events. It was Sam, cupping the little greasy ball in his hand, who suggested that there was obviously something very special about this day, and that they should go look for surf.
Further south we were greeted by the typical pattern of offshore winds funneling out of the Camarillo Valley, which, as the land heated up, ordinarily switched to onshore around 11:00 a.m. We were already perilously late by the time we pulled up to McGrath State Park, the spot to check this stretch of beach. Why here this morning? I can’t really say, except to state that it was just where we happened to end up. No one really questioned the decision—Matt, Jimmy, and I simply unloaded our gear and, staggering a bit under the weight of way too much breakfast, traipsed over the dunes, following the bulldozer tracks to see what the day might have in store for us.
Later we found that Willy and Mrs. Morris actually knew a little bit about this beach, existing as it does as somewhat of a neutral surf zone between the more vigorously protected breaks of Ventura to the north and Oxnard to the south. But we had never even checked it before, nor had we discussed any plans to meet here on this morning. And yet somehow, led by the promise from a Ping-Pong ball that something special would ensue if they passed Rincon and headed south, Willy, Sam, and Sandra ended up parking their car right next to ours and following the same bulldozer’s path along the river and out to the top of the dunes.
Do I even have to tell you what they found? How about a perfectly-formed sandbar where there the day before there had been no sandbar, so ideally set up that you could paddle out to the takeoff point without even getting your head wet. Totally makeable rifling, right barrels that sped down the bar at just-under-closeout speed. Offshore wind that, for some reason, forgot it was supposed to reverse direction at 11:00, and would instead hold up the wave faces from dawn to dusk. And only our crew there to experience it (joined later by Willy’s brother Steve and buddy Steve Mendelson.) Perfect tubes, offshore wind, nobody else out. All day. A dreamy day. A day of dreams.
And that’s what we called it: The Day of Dreams. December 19, 1980.
Check out Jimmy Metyko’s Instagram feed HERE.