At 10:15 on Friday morning, a resident on the 6700 block of Del Playa Drive called 911 to report a surfer trapped among the large swells and waves near the cliff. Minutes later, dispatch received a second call that another surfer was also having difficulty in the water.
Marty Machado, a senior art studio major and a resident of an oceanside house, said he and others watched the incident unfold.
“There was one guy riding a longboard. His board hit the sea wall and shattered so he climbed around the sea wall against the cliff and yelled for help,” Machado said. “His buddy, who was out in the water too, rode a wave in while lying on his stomach, I guess to help him, and both of them ended up being stranded.”
Capt. Charlie Johnson, public information officer for the Santa Barbara County Fire Dept., said the first thing rescue teams did to handle the situation was station someone on the bluffs to continually monitor the surfers’ whereabouts.
“It consisted of a two-prong rescue. Two watercraft, which are jet skis, were launched immediately from Goleta Beach. At the same time, firefighters were setting up a rescue surf system that consisted of lowering ropes into the area where the surfers were against the cliff,” he said. “So we have two rescue efforts happening at the same time.”
Johnson said the surfers were stranded during peak tide. The surf was breaking at 10-12 feet high.
“The surfers were fortunate because they got caught up in the only spot where there is a buffer. The buffer consists of telephone poles sunken into the rocks and stops surfers from being thrown against the cliff,” he said. “It was very rough surf and there was a strong current. Once rescuers were down there, they and the surfers were getting knocked on their butts because the waves were so strong. If the waves were any higher, they all would have been in a lot of trouble. Or if they had been 50 feet north or south of the spot they were in, they could have been in great danger.”
Machado said he and other onlookers tried to lighten the mood as rescue efforts unfolded.
“The whole thing seemed kind of comical because the surfers were pretty calm, so we brought two of our biggest speakers outside facing the water and blasted ‘Eye of the Tiger’ from ‘Rocky’ and ‘Don’t Worry, Be Happy,'” he said. “After everything was over, one of the guys came up and thanked our building for calling the fire department and for playing the music.”
While the surfers and the surfboard that was still intact were being pulled up the cliff, the jet skis were standing by just in case, Johnson said.
“After the surfers were pulled up the cliff, the jet skis were taken back to Goleta Beach and loaded onto the trailer. They hadn’t been on the trailer for five minutes when another call came in about surfers who were in trouble about 100 yards south of the original incident,” Johnson said. “They re-launched the jet skis and we moved down with our binoculars and kept an eye on the surfers who were being pulled towards Coal Oil Point.”
Johnson said that while the jet skis made their way towards the second incident, the surfers made their way into an area in the water where swells were smaller.
“Once the guys were in calm waters, they just went ahead and kept surfing,” he said. “The surfers live for big surf and they don’t care if it’s choppy. We have a couple of concerns though. Most surfers know what they can handle, however others find themselves in a predicament when the waves are too strong or too big. We just have to put ourselves on standby when the waves are big.”
Johnson said the two rescued surfers only suffered minor injuries from rocks. However, he suggested they rinse out eyes and ears and any cuts immediately after coming out of the water to avoid infection from contaminants within the water.