Summer in the Surf

I was so close to subletting a summer apartment in Berkeley when out of curiosity, I hopped on the UC Santa Barbara (UCSB) Facebook housing page. When my original internship based out of San Francisco was cancelled, I miraculously landed a similar, remote internship which gave me location independence! With nowhere to call “home” for the summer and the severity of the pandemic looming over the  Bay Area, I decided I would spend my summer in Isla Vista, California.

Katia holding a surfboard at the beach
I’m in love with my baby blue wetsuit and surfboard!

While I am a proud and loyal Berkeley resident, I’ve always longed to live among the palm trees and Pacific Ocean that line Isla Vista or “IV,” the college town adjacent to UCSB off the central coast of California. I’m quite the outdoor-oriented individual, so like many of us, the first two months spent inside in quarantine took a toll on my physical and mental health. Santa Barbara has always been a special getaway for me and my family as we have years of memories visiting our relatives down south. I’ve also been surfing intermittently for four years and realized that much like Disney’s Moana, the sea was calling me. So in mid-June with the temperatures picking up and my internship due to start in a week, I decided to commit to a summer of surfing in IV. Two months into my time here, I can definitely say I understand what the surfers mean by “living to surf.”

Eight weeks ago I started surfing at Campus Point, a beginner surf break about 15 minutes walk away, and I’ve come a long way since then. I got rid of my initial, fun foam board and bought a technical board for more intermediate surfers. While I previously could ride a wave for 5 seconds, I can now go for 25 seconds if the conditions are right. I no longer go to Campus Point because the swell is too small for my liking and I’ve discovered the beauty of the beaches on the opposite side of town, where the waves are consistently 1-2 feet taller. On this side, the sun sets on the horizon and I fell in love with the feeling of catching a good ride under a purple-pink sky, so naturally I became part of the daily sunset crew. Social distancing isn’t hard on the water when all of us have 6 feet (or longer) boards, so I’ve even managed to make a few friends in a town where I moved without knowing anyone. The biggest barrier to entry was finding out how to get my board to the beach without a car, but I quickly learned the local method of tucking a board under one arm and biking the 1.5 miles out to the water, which only took a few attempts to get right.

Surfers coming out from the ocean at sunset

As I’m writing this now, I’m eagerly awaiting for the sun to get a little lower in the sky, the swell to pick up a little, and to slap on my wetsuit and head to the beach. I’ll probably paddle until I can’t lift my arms, lose track of time, and if today goes like the rest of my evenings, I’ll likely be the last one out as the light disappears. Don’t get me wrong, I’m still on the grind of becoming a better, stronger student as I work full time from home with a rewarding summer internship. But while I’ve learned plenty about chemistry and the pharmaceutical industry on the job, perhaps the most learning and growing that I’ve done in summer 2020 has been out in the surf in sunny Isla Vista.


Author: Katia Gibson

Hello! I'm Katia, a senior chemistry major and Cal Teach minor, and you'll either find me in the 24 hour library studying or out chasing sunsets on my long runs. I'm a Bay Area native and I also do work in the environmental community, research in an organic chemistry lab, and dance with Ballet Folklorico Reflejos de Mexico. Hoping that I can share a little bit of Berkeley's magic with you all, go bears!