The 2022 book “Rincon Point” co-written by Vincent Burns and Stephen Bates explores the expansive history of the 30 acres of land near Carpinteria that make up one of the most iconic surf spots in California.
Burns, a publishing consultant and historian, teamed up with Bates, a journalism professor and author, because both had familial ties to Rincon Point. Bates’ great-grandfather bought Rancho el Rincon, which included most of Rincon Point in 1885 in partnership with another man, and they divided up the land after 1900. Bates said his grandfather lived on the hill above Rincon Point and that many of his relatives had cottages at Rincon Point going back to the 1920s.
Burns’ grandmother bought a piece of land right on Rincon Point from Bates’ family in the 1970s, while Burns was in high school and helped with construction of the house.
Burns initially started writing the book as a project after his retirement during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Being a historian and working in publishing all my life, it seemed like a natural to write a book, and I ran across some beautiful photos of a Rincon from the ’60s and ’70s,” he said. “They’re just so beautiful, and it was so interesting to me.”
Burns had been writing a surf history column in Carpinteria before he started working on the book.
“A year or two ago, I started writing a surf history column in the Carpinteria newspaper so that I could interview these old time surfers,” Burns said, “and get their stories about Rincon in the earliest days before wetsuits and leashes and fancy boards, when they were just building fires on the beach and whatnot.”
Bates joined the project because he knew he could contribute his family’s history to the book.
“There was a lot of research in it,” Bates said. “Family photos, predominantly, but also materials from the University of California, Berkeley and the Bureau of Land Management, and a lot of old maps and things like that. That entailed some sort of traditional historical archival research.”
“The project was moving along maybe a little slowly,” Burns said, “and then Stephen got in touch and it just took off.”
Throughout the two-year process of research and writing, both authors discovered events that had been forgotten from local lore — most notably for Bates, a story about a love triangle that ended in a murder.
“A lot of these stories are kind of familiar to people, but I haven’t talked to anybody who knew about this love triangle murder,” Bates said.
The story told about an affair between a farmer’s wife and a hired hand who lived with them. According to Bates, the two of them killed the farmer together and buried him in the sand on Rincon Point before fleeing.
“Various neighbors thought it was suspicious, so they started poking around,” Bates said. “Literally, they used poles to poke down in the sand and they found the body.”
The pair were arrested in 1875.
“It was quite a big story and seems to have been forgotten by everybody,” Bates said.
Burns said he enjoyed learning that the history of Rincon Point tied into other significant parts of California history. The land used to be the site of a Chumash village where artifacts, skeletons and burials from the Chumash have been discovered. The land was farmed in the early 1920s by a Japanese family who returned to the land even after they were interned during World War II.
“As a historian, I always love it when you can see things aren’t just sort of random events, but they tie into things that are happening nationally, or at state level,” he said.
“Rincon Point” was published in October and is now available for sale.