The bad news is there’s a shit load of tar washing up on Santa Barbara county beaches. The good news is the tar is actually caused by natural seepage from underground oil deposits, not from leaking pipes or oil wells. The Santa Barbara channel has so much oil beneath it that there is significant leakage of crude oil into the surrounding waters from natural seeps. This has been going on long before oil companies starting drilling in the channel in the 60’s. In fact, the tar was an important resource for the native Chumash indians who used it to waterproof their boats and baskets and called it “pizmu'”. Today’s Pismo beach in San Luis Obispo county is named after the black goo, though it’s far more common in Santa Barbara county.
The tar is what is left after crude oil seeps out, floats to the top of the water and biodegrades. It looks and smells like asphalt, or Henry’s, the stuff roofers use to patch roofs with. Though not as sticky, it can still be messy if it gets on your skin and difficult to remove. The best way to get it off is with olive or baby oil. Otherwise it’s pretty harmless so happy surfing!