I want to start by stating that I am not giving anything away. Don’t bother sending your angry letters accusing me of exposing secret spots, because the Ranch is not a secret spot. A huge chunk of pristine coastline stretching from Gaviota north to Jalama Beach cannot be kept secret. A map is all it takes to realize what this place must have; the aspect is right to pick up both summer south swells and winter northwests. But the Ranch is protected by more than secrecy; it takes more than knowing it’s there to be able to surf it.
If you don’t have the cash for one of the multi-million dollar land parcels, there are only two other ways to surf the Ranch. One, you buy a boat, strap your boards to the bow and motor on up there from Gaviota. However, those that have purchased the parcels protect their investment. I’ve heard rumors of owners in scuba gear removing anchors and puncturing inflatable boats. The other option is to buy a kayak and get in good enough shape to paddle the 20 miles and still have enough in your arms for the surf.
Unable to afford the million-dollar parking pass, too lazy to paddle and too unpopular to know anyone with a boat, my buddies and I came up with a fourth way: the railroad tracks that run the length of the Ranch. The only gate in and out may be guarded, but the tracks are not. The plan was to walk the railroad tracks past security onto the Ranch. Sure, the tracks were covered with “No Trespassing” signs, but we ignored them. As soon as I stepped onto the Ranch I realized why these were some of the most closely guarded waves in Southern California; it didn’t feel like Southern California. There was no highway buzzing above the beach – just empty, meandering dirt roads bending around gentle rolling hills. Here and there cattle grazed as wild pigs darted from the tracks in front of us. Every few miles we walked across the fields to look down over the bluffs at the surf. But we never saw anything amazing enough to warrant picking our way down the cliff.
We walked for two hours, our boards strapped to our backpacks, the whole while looking out towards Point Conception in the distance. Suddenly, from over the hill, a white pickup came speeding down on us, pulling to a halt in a cloud of dust. The driver stepped out, and from his hip drew a six-shooter.
“What’re you boys doing?” he asked. With the board bags the answer should have been obvious.
“Looking for surf,” we cautiously replied.
“This here is private property,” he pointed out. “There’s only five of you; means I can miss once,” he chuckled to himself.
We just stood there scared. It flashed through my head that this guy could probably legally shoot us. I mean, we were on his land. He waved his gun at the truck and told us to get in the bed.
“And don’t try anything,” he said.
What the hell did he think this was? Try anything? I like surfing, but I am not going to end my life at the hands of some crazy mountain person for a few waves. I got in the truck. We were in a sad state in the back of that truck as we watched the Ranch roll by, knowing our chance was over without ever getting in the water. Well, over for that trip anyway. Next time I’m wearing camouflage and going at night.
The Isla Vista Surfrider foundation presents “Shelter,” a picture that gets closer than most to capturing the soul of surfing. A film by Jack Johnson, the Malloy brothers and Taylor Steele; showing tonight at 7:30 in HSSB 1174.