Oil Piers was never what you’d call a world class surf spot. Sure, west and northwest swells would sometimes sneak in through the Channel Islands and down past Mussel Shoals into the little pier-created sandbar and peel off evenly under the wooden pilings; and it was protected from the consistently howling northwest wind — but you’d never have confused it with nearby Rincon. Still, it had a small group of die-hard devotees who were on it every time it broke. Unfortunately (for surfers, anyway) Mobil Oil dismantled and removed the two piers in summer ’98 — and in the process removed the very things that trapped sand and the made the wave any good. Now, it’s the same crapola closeout beachbreak as the rest of that stretch of coast. Plus, sand keeps getting stripped away and swept down the coast. But things could be looking up. ASR, a marine consulting and research company based in Raglan, New Zealand (and the world’s preeminent artificial reef engineers) just finalized a design contract with the Army Corps of Engineers to put in an artificial reef at the Oil Piers site. “We’re really excited about it — it’s going to be a great site to demonstrate the new technology to people.” ASR’s Shaw Mead is caught in LA traffic after touring the geotextile plant where they’d build the different sections of the reef. “The main purpose is actually sand retention, but surfing is really important, too.” ASR is based at Raglan for a reason, after all — pretty much all these guys surf.

The preliminary design calls for 15,000 square yard reef, located about {{{200}}} yards offshore, which would be shaped like an “L”, with a longshore length of about 120 yards with an additional little (20 yard) arm running northwards. It’d be made from NASA-strong geotextile sandbags surrounded by gussets to maintain shape. Solid, in other words. Jose Borrero, a coastal engineering researcher from USC who conducted a multi year monitoring program at the unspectacular Pratte’s Reef, is optimistic. “The reef at Oil Piers has a much better chance at creating surfable waves than Pratte’s, for a few reasons: the guys doing the design have a lot more experience looking at real reefs and how they work; they have support from the community and the army corps; and the sand nourishment component of the project will ensure more material will be added to the site and they won’t only be relying on the currents and waves to re-distribute the material.” And while the project does have community and army corps of engineers support, the final deal — where the money and permits start coming in — should be finalized in January 2005. After that, Mead says it’ll only take a couple months to build the thing, and the goal is to have it finished by the end of the summer next year. “It’s pretty simple, really,” Mead explains. “All we want to do is exactly what the piers did in the first place: save the beach and create a little surf break.” —Marcus Sanders (As an aside, the 5th annual International Artificial Surfing Reef Conference — to be co-hosted by the USC Ocean and Coastal Engineering Group and Surfrider — is set to go in January 2005 in the Los Angeles area. The goal is to “gather like minded surfers, scientists and community people to discuss the reef issue and check out the state of the art in artificial reefs for surfing and coastal protection, wave pools and general surfing science.” Stay tuned for updates.)