Best of Santa Barbara 2012: Sporting Life

The Land Shark goes on land and sea, as landlubber Ethan Stewart seems to know.
Paul Wellman

Health Club

Spectrum Athletic Clubs

Three locations

Sometimes the formula for success is pretty simple. “It’s a clean club, with great equipment,” explained Ramon Adams, the general manager of the small chain of gyms that annually wins this category. “It’s a healthy environment, like it should be, with staff who like to be here. And it shows. So, the members like to be here, too.” But it’s not just generalities that muscled Spectrum into the winner’s circle. Adams claims the club keeps abreast of all the fitness regime changes happening around. “Right now, we have TRX, kettlebells, and the best group fitness class in town.” He’s proud. “And we can’t wait to get that plaque.”


Yoga Studio

Yoga Soup

28 Parker Wy., 965-8811

It’s not a stretch to say Yoga Soup has emerged in the last three years as the readers’ clear favorite. Helmed by the sometimes puckish Eddie Ellner, who always stresses how much he loves the fact that Yoga Soup is more than a place to take classes — it’s a place to hang out, meet authors, friends, and is, as the website eloquently puts it, “a safe, vibrant, serious and light-hearted space for self-observation and transformation to occur.”


Pilates Studio

CenterPoint Pilates

1 W. Victoria St., 560-6992

Eleven years in the making, CenterPoint Pilates keeps expanding its Victoria Court headquarters and popularity with the readers, too. “I think they like us because we are client-centered,” said owner Amy Havens. “There is no cookie-cutter approach to Pilates, partly because we have an eclectic group of teachers who come from different kinds of training. Client-centered is a good description, though, because they are our main focus.”


Martial Arts Studio

Martial Arts Family Fitness

122 E. Gutierrez St., 963-6233

The little downtown fitness studio combines youth classes with adult training; it offers rigorous Master Dave Wheaton–inspired hapkido classes but also teaches kickboxing and anti-bully training. For these reasons — and a strong sense of a friendly, safe approach to what is perhaps the least friendly aspect of life on our planet, how to manage confrontation — MAFF wins year after year.


Dance Studio

Rhythm Dance & Fitness Studios

5708 Hollister Ave., Goleta, 203-0485

“Winning this made my millennium,” laughed Rhythm Dance & Fitness owner Tamarr Paul. “We just spent last year putting everything on new software, a lot of work since we have 650 students. It’s going to make everything a lot easier, especially getting the word out about schedules and classes, but wow. So this comes at the perfect time and lets me know what we were doing is paying off. It really means a lot. We’re committed to serving the whole community, and winning this lets us know it’s all worth it.”


Outdoor Fitness Program

Jenny Schatzle, 698-6080

“Yay! This is great, and it makes my whole day,” said first-time winner Jenny Schatzle, who has been training people here for the past decade, the last four years of it in her own program, which doesn’t just meet in the same old park every day to administer its tortuous health routines. “We jump around to different places every weekend. We have a really fun workout, very positive, and with people from all types of experience — from firefighters to people who are just getting back into training: Males, females, everybody including pregnant women. I’m very excited that the readers voted for us.”



El Capitán State Beach

Off Hwy. 101, 17 miles west of Santa Barbara, 968-1033

People who live in million-dollar tract homes or rent thousand-dollar-a-month studios apparently don’t like to trade their city dwellings for isolated dusty locales up in the wild riparian and sagebrush backcountry. Our citizens who camp want even more beach view from their tents than they get at home from the old bungalow, and they know right where they can get it. El Capitán, an annual favorite for the last decade and a family destination since the 1950s, combines oceanic proximity and amenities, like a store and updated bathrooms and showers, with easy highway-driving access and, once you are there, the distinct sensation that nothing will come between you and the deep blue ever again — ’til Monday rolls around.


It’s an adventure just shopping at REI, says author D.J. Palladino.
Paul Wellman

Camping Gear Store


321 Anacapa St., 560-1938

“Rockin’,” said REI outreach specialist Piper Presley, describing the chain store’s first-place prize in a brand-new town it’s only been in 11 months. “We’ve only been open since November of 2011,” she said of the much-awaited lower State Street opening of the outdoor sports chain. “I think Santa Barbarans like us because we’re a co-op. We bring together a lot of products from around the nation. But our most important ingredient is customer service,” she said. And who could argue: The store’s success was immediate and in tents … intense, that is.


Surf Shop

Channel Islands Surfboards

36 Anacapa St., 966-7213

The shop that Al Merrick started is doing fine, thank you very much, even though the presiding genius is now in retirement. “We still sell his designs,” explained associate manager Adam Rondepierre. “And I’d say we have the best boards in the world. What happens is a lot of people come in here for the surfboards and look around and see we have everything else you need,” said Rondepierre, referring to everything from swim trunks to sunglass holders, and reckoning that nonetheless, boards and wetsuits still make up more than half of the store’s sales. When interviewed, Rondepierre expressed hope that after a long, flat summer that some waves would soon break out. “By Labor Day, it started to look good. Let’s hope for a big winter,” he said.


Swimwear Store

Bikini Factory

2275 Ortega Hill Rd., Summerland, 969-2887

There are a few places in town whose walls could write novels. And Bikini Factory’s could for sure. Not just in the voyeuristic sense of eeny-weeny-polka-dotted erotica, but more in the family saga genre, spanning decades of dazzling variety. A SoCal setting with women from three generations seeking ways to show a lot of themselves without showing these things wrong: A couture parade indoors while outdoors the world morphs from Beatles to Bieber. Opened by Sally Yater in 1962, spouse of the man Renny who practically invented surf shops and surfboard shaping, the store today is run by Linda Meyer, who has been here for a couple of generations herself, yet stays forever young, fitting celebs, politicos, and plain (but never plain-Jane) folks clothed and ready to rock the beach. Custom fitting is what Bikini Factory does. And if the walls could write, the novel would likely be a beautiful exposé.


Snowboard/Ski Gear Store

Mountain Air Sports

14 State St., 962-0049

Sometimes snow-sports folk are a lot like farmers. “Snow farmers,” laughed Mountain Air Sports manager Joey Duddridge, acknowledging the absolute dependence on favorable weather: in this case storms, which failed to develop very strongly last year and which everybody hopes for this year. “But we did alright anyway,” said Duddridge, who is super grateful for the readers’ continuing support of the 37-year-old store. “We’re very excited this year to be selling molded ski boots, which are made in the store and custom formed around your feet,” said Duddridge, who claims that the better the boot, the safer the ankles. “We’re the best ski store in town,” he added, not trying to snow us for a second.


Bicycle Shop

Bicycle Bob’s

Two locations

“It’s the staff. That’s what makes people who come here happy,” said BB general manager Damon Williams. “And also because we’ve been here for so long, coming up on 29 years now,” he added. He admitted the fact that the store carries the two leading brands of bicycle, Trek and Specialized, gives them a lot of edge over their competition. Whatever new developments happen tend to arrive here first. “But a significant part of our business is repairs,” Williams said, and for that they need a great crew of 20 full- and part-time bike-lovers available to keep up with the work. Given all that, is it still exciting to be voted the best? “We are absolutely thrilled that we keep winning this. I said the same thing last year when we won, but it’s true,” he said.


Skateboard Shop

Church of Skatan

26 E. Gutierrez St., 899-1586

“We are very, very happy; we are extremely happy to win,” said new Church manager Meetch Green. “We’ve been open now for 16 years, and I think we’ve won it every time. I think the readers vote for us mainly because we’re not trying to do anything else except hook up the kids. We want to give them everything they need to skate, and we just want them to keep stoked about doing it.” The skate news, as it turns out, is pretty old. “A lot of the college kids are buying cruiser boards, big old boards they can get around on. It’s like a throwback to the ’70s. It’s very cool.”


Place to Get Athletic Shoes

Santa Barbara Running

Two locations

It’s not a big chain, but it brings the readers in year after year. The staff is friendly and knowledgeable — they all run — and the store distinguishes itself by sponsoring athletic competitions where people run, in shoes!


Whale-Watching Tour

Condor Express

301 W. Cabrillo Blvd., 882-0088

Captain Ahab aside, most of us are very lucky if we see a real whale pop up from the actual ocean. Not on Fred Benko’s Condor Express, though, an outfit so full of technological advantages, expertise, and the kind of hubris that comes from decades of experience, they guarantee you will see whales on any given outing. Do your research, though; some seasons are better than others — and the variety of whale (blue, humpback, and even killer) depends somewhat on seasonal migration patterns. No matter what, however, it’s a remarkable way to spend a day, out in the channel among the largest form of mammalian life on the planet, getting lucky or getting a whale check to come back on another day with the leviathans for free.


Golf Course

Glen Annie Golf Club

405 Glen Annie Rd., Goleta, 968-6400

“It’s a great place to work. People are friendly; our service is polite and helpful. We do a lot of fundraisers, including donating the course to Dos Pueblos’ golf team, and all those things help raise the perception of us out in the public,” explained general manager Rich Nahas, who has been involved with the course for 12 of its 14 years of existence. “Of course, it’s a beautiful course, but I think a big part of it is that when the staff enjoys being there, the people who come out enjoy it, too.”


S.B. Tour Company

Land Shark, 683-7600

Its name comes from one of the first Saturday Night Live skits (a parody of Jaws) that everybody knew, but the ride onboard this big amphibious craft is a lot more wondrous than funny. You might find it hard to imagine while riding around town in lofty bench seats and waving to the landlubbers below that this big thing will eventually take you on a sea cruise. But, after meandering through beachfront parking lots, there you are, lurching into the sea at the harbor, and suddenly afloat and gliding, first heading out of our picturesque harbor, and then jaunting around Stearns Wharf. For just a little more than the price of two movie tickets, you can see our pretty town from out on the bounding main, perched safely above where the sharks and the octopus play.



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