One of the wildest, windiest, most wave-lashed pieces of the California coast has just reopened. And now you can visit without worrying about stepping on unexploded bombs!
San Miguel Island, the westernmost of the of the Santa Barbara Channel Islands and part of the national park, opened to visitors yesterday after a two-year closure. The Navy thought it would be best to comb the island for unexploded ordnance remaining from the island’s time as a military bombing range from WWII to the 1970s. Scouring the island’s 18 miles of hiking trails and other areas, they found no bombs but removed 125 pounds of munitions parts.
Now it’s open again, with the new addition of flights from Camarillo Airport through Channel Islands Aviation. The only other way to get to the island, a stomach-churning, lunch-revisiting, Dramamine-defeating 55 miles from Ventura, is by private boat or National Park charter.
If you’re having visions of cruising out there, surfboard under arm, slow your roll, potna. Visitors have to stick to established trails, meaning you can’t just wander out to a good-looking point, paddle out, and score. Nor would you necessarily want to. The 8-mile-long island is home to 100,000 seals and sea lions — apparently the largest colony in the world.
Hence the name of the island’s only well-known wave: Shark Park. No doubt, this open-ocean big wave, more than two miles from shore, earns its moniker. “You could feel their presence,” said big wave legend Garrett McNamara, who has surfed there at least once. McNamara remembers scoping the area from the air, and seeing “giant swimming pools with thousands of seals. In my mind, I was like that’s a lot of popcorn for the sharks.”
Since it’s an outer reef, Shark Park was never technically off-limits, though visits are rare. The reef is exposed from all directions to howling winds, so the right wind conditions — nevermind swell — only occur a handful of days a year, according to photographer Grug Huglin, who has shot surfers, including McNamara, at Shark Park.
“Just approaching it, there are all these cloudbreaks around it. Shelfs and little islands,” where waves can break suddenly, without warning. “It’s the scariest wave I’ve ever seen” — this, coming from a guy who has shot Cortes Bank, Peahi, Nazare and great white sharks around the world.
So, San Miguel Island is the real deal. If you want to check out one of the Golden State’s wildest, least-visited, most remote outposts (with no fear of bomb explosions!) you can. Plan on scoring killer views of the island fox and the caliche forest (sand formations cast from ancient vegetation). But not so much scoring surf. And plan early! The campground only holds 30 people a night.