Sunset at Rincon.
The Rincon Classic
The Evolution of the 27-Year-Old Surf Contest
Thursday, January 28, 2010
This year’s Rincon Classic is the 27th annual surf contest at our beloved Queen of the Coast, but to hear some of the founders tell it, the history of Santa Barbara wavesliders officially duking it out for bragging rights at the end of Bates Road goes back even further.
Some seven years before the widely recognized 1979 start date of the Rincon Classic, the folks from Surf ’n’ Wear (the Santa Barbara surf shop institution that has since become the Beach House at the bottom of State Street) started a now legendary three-season surf series that featured a Christmastime contest at Rincon, a winter showdown at Hammonds in Montecito, and a final spring fling at Hendry’s Beach in Santa Barbara before the summer doldrums set in. “What today we call the Rincon Classic is really a descendant of the Rincon Christmas Surf Classic,” recalled Bruce Fowler recently, before adding with a laugh, “Or, at least that’s how I remember it, and I think my memory is still pretty good.”
Back then, Fowler was hired by Surf ’n’ Wear honcho Jeff White to put on the trifecta of local contests. With help from White and an assortment of others, Fowler — much like current Rincon Classic producer Chris Keet — was responsible for everything from signing up contestants and emceeing the event to setting up and taking down scaffolding to dealing with grumpy locals who wanted nothing to do with a weekend contest at “their” wave. Though he has fond memories of the contests and the season-ending parties at Carpinteria’s Lions Club, where a series champion was crowned, Fowler was only half-joking when he said, “Running that thing almost killed me. … It was a grueling pain in the ass.”
By 1979, the surf series had been boiled down to just one main event — the Rincon Classic. After all, Hendry’s is a fairly crappy wave and Hammonds, never a beacon of consistency to begin with, had its face forever changed by the construction of the Bonnymede vacation rentals. For 17 straight years, the Rincon Classic, thanks to White and contest co-organizer Roger Nance, went off in conditions of all types, allowing for some of the South Coast’s most successful competitive surfers — such as three-time world champ Tom Curren, aerial pioneer Davey Smith, Chris Brown, and former women’s world champ Kim Mearig — to cut their contest teeth and make their mark at home before going on to both national and international stages.
Sometimes it gets a bit crowded.
The Classic was derailed in 1995; after all, running a full-scale surf contest is a relatively thankless and financially draining endeavor. But sometimes in life you’ve got to go away to come back, and that is exactly what happened in 2001 when Chris Keet, S.B. native and owner of Surf Happens Surf School, resurrected the Queen’s main event.