SoCal Winter Series Preview - Santa Barbara Return to the Pier Race

Santa Barbara Return to the Pier Race Preview[This series of race previews is an unaffiliated* effort to share experiences from each of the races that comprise Southern California's Winter Series of Races for OC1, OC2, Surf-Ski, SUP and Prone Paddlers. We would very much like to offer this for races in NorCal and invite anyone who might wish to be a regular contributor with knowledge of the races there to contact us. * If any information is not consistent with the race day setup, they have either changed it, or I am simply wrong. So consider this a friendly free guide, and please do not run up to the race organizers if something is different and say "Cali Paddler says it is this way" as we are not the ones putting on the race. They are. And we are grateful to them for that!]

Santa Barbara Return to the Pier Race

I really do not understand why there are not more races in Santa Barbara. Granted it’s a little north of the intense So Cal paddling scene, but the Return To The Pier race right outside the harbor at the edge of downtown Santa Barbara is at least one reason that there should be more races there. It’s a standard So Cal Ocean Race Winter Series race with a short course for all craft and a long course where SUP’s and Prones are excluded, although I have been told that on calm days they have opened it up to those SUP/prones that want to paddle the long course at the last minute. Just in case you’re not tired from racing the short course already, and you need another 8 or 9 miles to really feel you have earned your free lunch. What sets this race apart for me, however, is the location. The fact that it is a little way out of crowded SoCal and the beach is maybe a little cleaner is worth the drive. Everything seems to run on time, at least for a paddleboard race, and like may races, everyone is stoked to be there.


The course is simple. You leave from just inside the harbor, and turn right at the red buoy which will likely have seals on it that do not care how well you buoy turn even in the slightest. You then follow the boat that will eventually set the orange turn around buoy, and if you’re not in shape it feels like the boat is driving much farther than half the course length with no intention of stopping. Eventually, at either 2.5 or 4.5 miles,  you round the buoy and race back in. At this point there is definitely the opportunity to catch some bumps even with minimal swell or wind. The one tricky part to the course can be by the jetty that protects the harbor. It is placed in such a way that any swell going on, which in Santa Barbara is admittedly minimal, gets bounced right back at you, and can make for some pretty unstable paddling. Considering that this is either right at the beginning/end of the course this can mess up your first chance at good clean water, or knock you right off the swells you were riding as you finish the race. Even a small swell can make some bumps so be aware that getting close to the jetty may cut down your distance, but it may not be worth it if the bumps are big enough.

After the race you can either watch the OC’s and Surfskis get ready for the long course, or if you raced the long course, get ready for the lunch that is provided. The first time I did this race I was not able to stay for the lunch, but I heard many good comments about how it tasted. And, as we all are well aware, it doesn’t even have to taste that great to be good after a paddle race.  Some other things to consider are that the race asks you to bring reusable water bottles to reduce trash and single use water bottles at the race. Theoretically you could park for free if there was space right on the road by the beach, but it is far easier just to pay to park in the lot for the harbor.

Regiter and get more info here:

Team Writer Bret WarnerTeam Writer Bret Warner - Paddling truly got its hooks into me when I, on a whim, watched the 1999 Santa Cruz Paddlefest with my dad. I had kayaked a little before, but from then on the addiction was palpable. My first kayak, a purple and turquoise Necky Rip, came soon after. The following year I was that kid at UCSD who had a surf kayak in the common study area instead of a surfboard in my dorm room. I also taught sea kayaking all through college in San Diego, and up in Santa Cruz after I graduated.

When SUP came around, however, the paddling addiction became even more rabid. The garage started to fill up with different types of boards, and is now more than half full of hollow wood boards I have built myself,both for environmental reasons, and because it’s awesome to get to talk about how you built your own board when people ask you about it after a race. I love the paddle racing scene in California right now. Everyone is so stoked to be on the water competing, and the fierce competition is matched by the smiling faces when the race is over. I have gotten to paddle crafts that I never really considered before, and can see myself getting hooked all over again on something else: prone, OC-1, surfski,whatever, I just need more garage space.

Three years ago I founded the non-profit Stand up to Alzheimer’s. An organization that raises money and awareness for Alzheimer’s research through paddle races. This organization was born from lacking a tangible way of dealing with my father’s diagnosis with Alzheimer’s, but has now become a way, hopefully, for other to help cope as well. Our next event is on July 9 in Monterey at Del Monte Beach, just a little north from Monterey Bay Kayaks. Visit us at

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