Now Rincon is not what you’d call a “secret spot.” The Queen of the Coast is an international celebrity, and always well-attended with even a hint of swell. It certainly does not belong to me, nor to any individual, although some surfers seem to own the place through sheer skill, and more than a few have tried to own it over the years through violence and intimidation. But when some Santa Barbara surfing friends of mine reached out recently with concerns about a pay-to-view camera fixed on the Rincon Cove from somewhere in La Conchita via the Surfline surf-forecasting company, my notion of ownership came into clearer focus.
No, Rincon does not belong to me, but it does belong to my community. Although this local community—including surfers from Oxnard/Ventura/Ojai and Carpinteria/Santa Barbara/Goleta—does not own Rincon exclusively either, as our fellow wave riders from wherever they hail ought to rightly feel welcome to experience the extraordinary natural phenomenon of the point when it’s working at its full potential.
But this camera business is something else entirely. While the Indicator/Rivermouth/Cove complex does not belong to us in the sense of ownership, it is nevertheless ours to look after and protect. The concerns we have with the Surfline camera center on the fact that no one locally has had any say in whether or not a camera should stream images from what in truth are our sacred surfing grounds. The argument that Rincon is a public place, deluged with thronging masses anyway, misses the point that yet another camera, on yet another section of California coastline, represents an ongoing encroachment.
Will no places of natural splendor remain un-surveilled? Is the convenience of a surfer or other casual observer the most-important factor to consider, or the financial benefit of the La Conchita property owner and their contract with Surfline? I say no—those are not the most important factors. The most important factor, beyond even the potential impact on our local surf break, is a general acceptance of corporate intrusion into every aspect of our lives. The data mining and the casual acquisition of what was previously known as the public sphere, leads only, ultimately, to a dystopian future-scape, ruled by technocratic oligarchs.
“Vandalism is cool,” one of the surf crew wrote, “let’s f*%# that thing up!” I get that sentiment, the Molotov cocktail at the barricades. But we’re not there yet. We haven’t communicated with Surfline, choosing instead to gather local support via petition. Another angle we’ve discussed is pressuring advertisers on the Surfline site—the engine that runs the machine. We’re hoping that Patagonia and Channel Island Surfboards (both of whom stream surfing content on the site) will ask Surfline to take down the camera. Ironically perhaps, we need corporate help to counter a corporate maneuver affecting the community. But both companies, massive producers of surfing and outdoor goods, work towards limiting their environmental impact and it makes sense that they would support this grassroots cause that has many wider, societal implications.
Crowded as Rincon can get, there are still moments when the ocean out-paces the swell forecasters and throws some natural magic, the waves arriving unannounced. Then it is only for those who may have had a hunch, or simply popped down to see what’s happening, to enjoy. These are fleeting moments, but the whole deal is fleeting—our children hurtling through the early years, our bodies holding strength for as long as they are able—as are our chances to experience unexpected wonder. No camera for convenience sake is worth sacrificing this vestige of life on earth as it has always been, as the author of the book of Ecclesiastes knew so well: “The wind goeth toward the south, and turneth about unto the north; it whirleth about continually, and the wind returneth again according to his circuits.”
Christian Beamish is an editor at the Coastal View News. He is also a surfboard shaper, the former Associate Editor of The Surfer’s Journal and author of “The Voyage of the Cormorant” (Patagonia Books 2012) about navigating the Pacific coast of Baja California aboard his self-built, 18-foot beach boat by sail and oar. He lives in Carpinteria with his wife and two young children.