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Santa Clara Rivermouth
"Dude, did you see that?!" A shortboarder pointed to a feathering peak pushing out of the south. I glanced over just in time to see a decomposing cow carcass get dragged up the face of a magnificent A-frame, and come crashing down on the placid brown water below. Cries of disbelief echoed from the surfers around me. I just smiled and shook my head. Absolutely unbelievable. As you may know, the ongoing issue at Santa Clara is the water quality. After any measurable rain event, the surf is an awful chocolate color that doesn't dissipate for days. Every conceivable virus and bacteria species known to man washes into the Santa Clara River from the inland communities and gradually makes its way to the ocean.

When those steeply angled tropical storm swells come surging out of the south Pacific, certain sectors of the Ventura coast fire on all cylinders. This is one of those breaks. Depending on sand placement, the rivermouth can dish out reeling pointbreak style lefts, dredging shorebreak rights, and anything in between. With its ongoing, dynamic transitions in bathymetry, both summer and winter months at the rivermouth offer dramatic divertsity and unpredictability -- depending on whether you see the glass half full or half empty. There's no doubt about it, the place gets good. Really good. Boasting a wide swell window, the rivermouth has a capacity for cranking out rideable waves year round. East and northeast winds blow offshore here and are a welcome companion to any swell direction. Santa Clara is one of those spots that it's a good idea to develop an instinct for, or to check on a consistent basis as it has a tendency to change overnight.

Crowd Factor: Desolate to maddening. There are periods of time where you won't see another human being in the water here for a week straight. Then you go back a short time later, and the parking lot will be maxed out. Generally speaking, you can usually expect a small to moderate pack on any average weekday morning with quality waves.

Location: The mouth of the Santa Clara River as it reaches the Pacific. Just north of McGrath State Beach and south of the Ventura Harbor.

Access: Turn off of Harbor Blvd., and make your way down Spinnaker Drive heading toward the ocean. The small parking lot for the rivermouth will be on your left side, and does require a U-turn about 100 yards down the road. Checking the actual break can be tricky as it's still over a half mile south of here. Grab your binoculars, and climb one of the small sand dunes. It also helps to ask nearby surfers who've just finished their sessions if it's worth the walk. If you decide to plant your flag here, lock your car and make the hike down to the rivermouth. There'll be quite a few tempting peaks along the way that you may decide to indugle in.

Amenities: The designated "surfer's knoll" parking lot (yes, free parking) doesn't open until one of the county employees comes by shortly after dawn and unlocks the gate. For the impatient few, you can RISK parking in the shopping plaza across the street. Emphasis on the word risk. Other than that, the county has done a fine job installing restrooms and showers for beach visitors.

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