The El Nino in the winter of 1983 produced a swell of epic proportions, creating monster waves up and down the California coast, but nowhere did it produce such powerful, spinning barrels as it did at a tiny spit of sand at the end of the breakwater in Santa Barbara.
A local high school kid, Tom Curren dominated the set and was filmed so deep within barrel after barrel that it basically launched his surfing career, one that would culminate with multiple World Championships.
Sandspit, as it's rightly called, produces powerful barrels like few places on the coast, the world for that matter. It's elusive, taking a powerful swell from just the right direction to go off, but when it does, you're certain to see world-class performance from some of the greatest surfers in the world.
And yet, this elusive, powerful, monster barrel-making machine wasn't crafted by nature and wouldn't exist whatsoever if not for Major Max Flieschmann, the “Yeast King,” and his 219 foot yacht, Haida.
The city of Santa Barbara had been planning to build a harbor further east by dredging out the natural lagoon currently know as the Bird Refuge. The Yeast King, however, wasn’t super stoked on the idea and pretty much insisted that the city build a breakwater parallel to the coast just to the west of Stearn’s Wharf.
The Army Corps of Engineers voiced concerns that building a breakwater would not only erode sand from the beaches further East, but would also cause sand to build up at the Harbor’s entrance. To which Max was like, “How about I just pay for half of it?” Yep, that worked.
To their credit, the Army Corps was absolutely correct. Sand did build up at the entrance of the harbor. What they didn’t realize, however, was that such a little spit of sand in such perfect alignment to the coast would greet incoming swells with the sort of feisty caress that gets surfers all hot and bothered.
The Yeast King left quite a legacy. He once owned the Cincinnati Reds, won a hot air balloon race from St. Louis to the Atlantic, owned 22 different yachts and was, at one point, the commander of the U.S. Army Balloon School – all very interesting, but nothing compared to the perfect barrel. For that, Major, we salute you!