Joe Burke’s Isla Vista Surf Company introduced countless UCSB students and other residents to the life-changing pursuit of waves by providing their first surfboards and wetsuits. Hundreds of graduates of Campus Point, Depressions, Devereux, and Sands distinguish their quadrennials at UCSB with the swells that grind along the point and beach breaks that bracket Isla Vista. As owner and operator of I.V. Surf Company for more than 20 years, Joe Burke was the vehicle for thousands of rides on innumerable big days.
Joseph Francis Xavier Burke, the first of Agnes Agabiti and Joseph Burke’s eight children, was born October 17, 1949, in Trenton, New Jersey, and grew up in nearby suburban Pennington. Joe’s father, a Mercer County engineer, was killed by a drunk driver at age 35, when Joe was 15. Agnes Burke taught high school and later became a social worker. Riding waves during summers at Long Beach Island started Joe’s lifelong affair with surfing.
After high school, Joe lived and worked on horse ranches, where he fell in love with riding and caring for horses. He treated injured thoroughbreds from the racetrack, rehabbed them, and trained them as hunters and jumpers. Joe traveled to Boston and Kentucky before settling on California and Santa Barbara.
In Santa Barbara, Joe bought his first sailboat, a Columbia 30, and lived on board while working for the Harbor Patrol. In his free time, Joe surfed in Mexico and sailed to the Channel Islands, also competing in races to King Harbor and Ensenada aboard the Radiant. Joe joined his love of surfing to his business acumen in 1989, with his purchase of the Beach Shop in Isla Vista from owner Rob Nall. With no parking and a clientele that evacuated the town on all the biggest shopping days of the year, business in Isla Vista was a challenge. Joe met it by creating a surf shop that catered to the demands of a unique community. He designed his own surf wear and logo, installed a custom sign, supported the UCSB and Dos Pueblos surf teams, and lined the ceiling with area shaper Dave Johnson’s Progressive Surfboards — perfect for Devereux.
Joe fell in love with Isla Vista, purchased a home in the residential west end, and rode his bike to work, checking the surf on his way in. At the urging of neighbors, Joe managed the Isla Vista Recreation and Park District and also served as copresident of the homeowners’ Isla Vista Association. With his feet firmly in the business and residential zones of Isla Vista, Joe always provided a balanced perspective on community affairs. Joe was a wonderful neighbor who focused his efforts on community well-being in a rational, caring manner.
Joe married Debbie Mackie in 1987, and, six years later, their daughter, Caitlin, was born. Thrilled to be a father at 44, Joe focused wholeheartedly on parenting. He introduced his daughter to the ocean, taking her to the beach and teaching her to surf. Although Joe and Debbie separated, they remained lifelong friends and dedicated co-parents of Caitlin. Joe also shared his passion for horses with Caitlin, who began riding at Raintree Ranch in Goleta at age 8. Joe joined her, riding horses and taking on managerial jobs at El Capitan Ranch and Rancho Vista del Rio in Santa Ynez. Caitlin and Joe traveled to Ireland to ride and also took many other fun trips together — fly-fishing, visiting family and friends on the East Coast. Joe recently visited Caitlin at Humboldt State, where she is a junior.
Isla Vista Surf Company closed its doors in 2011, after 22 years of business. The shop was profitable despite the recession, but the building owner did not renew Joe’s lease. Closing hurt, but Joe could look back fondly on working with generations of college students who kept him thinking and acting younger than his years. The reality is that Joe Burke was always ageless in his passion for surfing, the ocean, horses, and Caitlin. Joe loved life whether it was riding a wave, piloting a boat in rhythm with the swell, riding a magnificent horse, or taking his daughter to the beach.
Joe’s youthful joy and sense of humor made it possible for him to successfully negotiate the ebb and flow of business in Isla Vista. He shared his gifts with those around him, whether he was helping someone select a surfboard or talking with a youngster about riding waves or a horse. Joe’s timelessness and the magic he dispensed at his store are part of the culture of Isla Vista and surfing that will carry forward with the generations of surfers who passed through his doors. In addition to his daughter, Caitlin, Joe Burke is survived by his siblings: Bruce, Brian, Marylou, Kevin, Nancy, and Johnny. His sister Kiki Burke passed away in 2005.
Debbie Mackie was married to Joe Burke for 13 years. Peter Neushul is Joe Burke’s good friend.