Does Carpinteria really have the ‘world’s safest beach?’

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Last month, juvenile great white sharks were spotted off the coast of Carpinteria and Santa Barbara. Nobody was hurt, but the sharks took bites out of a kayak and a paddleboard.

Local Santa Barbaran Alex Wyndham saw their tell-tale fins one day just before he was going to take his board into the water, and grabbed this Instagram shot. (Yes, that black dot is a shark fin.)

That’s what led Alex to ask Curious Coast this question:

I want to know, where did Carpinteria get the idea that it was the world’s safest beach?

Back in 1912, the  first wave of affordable automobiles were hitting the lots, and the coastal road linking Ventura to Carpinteria had just opened. Beach towns everywhere had to figure out how to attract these new mobile tourists. To that end, the Chamber of Commerce in Carp had to sell its beach town. They chose a slogan that would help: “World’s Safest Beach.”

Left: John Wullbrandt’s mural just off of Linden Ave. Center: A vintage tourist poster. Right: This watertower used to be a downtown fixture.

However, there aren’t any clear parameters for how to define “world’s safest beach.” So we asked the experts.

Milton Love, UCSB Marine Biologist: “I’ve never heard them issue the parameters of what it means. It could be things like the number of syringes per cubic acre, or the chances of being stung by a stingray or encountering a Republican. I mean, there’s all kind of possibilities.”

Milton Love, UCSB Marine Biologist (Photo: Paul Wellman)

Matthew Roberts, Carpinteria’s Parks and Rec director: “The Carpinteria beach faces south and in fact if you go right off our beach and you don’t hit Santa Cruz island, the next thing you’ll hit is Antarctica. So we really do face south and that protects us from typical Pacific Northwest storm swells that come in. That south swell allows our beaches to build up with softer sand, and with a nice gradual slope offshore, making it predictable when you wade into the water. It also helps change the dynamics of currents and riptides that you’ve heard about that are more dangerous in other locations.”

Matthew Roberts, Carpinteria’s Parks and Rec director. (Photo: Ted Mills)

David Griggs, Carpinteria Historical Society: “I think the old slogan was something like Mountains and Seashore at your Door. Carpinteria was already really well known for having had the World’s Largest Grapevine. We had the world’s first offshore oil wells at Summerland, and so going with this chain of superlatives, the Carpinteria Chamber decided we’ll have the World’s Safest Beach, which really wasn’t a stretch.”

David Griggs, Carpinteria Historical Society. (Photo: Ted Mills)

Griggs admits that the slogan is more marketing than science. “There may be other claims to having the world’s safest beach but I haven’t heard any, and until they go you know toe to toe or nose to nose with us, it’s a good selling point and it’s basically true.”

Now, if you do a search for “World’s Safest Beach” on Google, you will find some other beaches that once used the slogan. But until a challenger comes along, Carpinteria will continue to reign as the safest beach, sharks or no sharks.

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Curious Coast is a project made possible by the supporters of KCRW and a grant from Antioch University Santa Barbara.