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Winter Rules: Back to Back Swells Slam San Diego

After our recent round of surf, a few observations on how to make the most of our seasonal wave deluge.

This past Sunday afternoon after my seventh surf session at as many spots in four days, I was beat but on a surfed-out high. I had taken the opportunity of a visit by my longtime friend Greg Tate, who is from Florida, to surf as much as possible during the recent swell.

On Thursday after picking up Greg at the airport, we enjoyed a quick but productive session at Sunset Cliffs. We then picked up my sons Israel and Daniel from school and headed to La Jolla Shores to take advantage of the southwest wind. The swell had just started to slam the coast with some great overhead and very hollow set waves.

On Friday morning Greg and I surfed 6-8’ reef waves with just a couple of people out and then joined the boys for an afternoon session of beachbreak barrels. On Saturday we spent the day sampling the best of northern Baja and on Sunday we enjoyed two crunchy and consistent San Diego beachbreaks. 

What became clear to me about this past swell is that due to its proximity to the Thanksgiving week run of surf, the crowds were a little less intense than they might have been if it had been opening week (with the exception of Swami’s, which makes Lowers on a killer south swell in the middle of summer seem uncrowded).

The week’s swell caused me to think about how to make the most of our seasonal gifts of waves.

  • Surf the swell as much and often as possible. Really. Don’t waste as much of your limited time and “surf capital” on the mediocre days. Use those days to get in shape and max out your surfing “punch card” (do I really need to explain this to anyone with a non-surfing spouse or partner) when the waves happen.
  • Get in shape and stay in shape. As a 48-year old average surfer trying to stay relevant on a 6’6” Novak quad, I know that my only advantage is the amount of time I spend in the pool and in the gym. Exercise will pay off on the good days.
  • Avoid the A-list spots. I heard multiple reports of crazy crowds at Swamis. There are dozens of “secondary” spots that have fewer crowds, more waves, and more rides for everyone. Unless you absolutely rip and have no problem paddle-battling dozens of your new best friends for waves, surf the mellower spots.
  • Avoid the rush hour. At every spot in San Diego, especially the reefs and points, 75 percent of the crowd seems to wait for the exact moment when conditions should in theory be at their best. That means you can score more wave with a slight reduction in quality when conditions aren’t so perfect.
  • It is always better to surf than stand around the parking lot. I observed dozens of people hanging out and waiting until it got better to paddle out. But it was better at that moment and sometimes it got worse later.
  • Surf a bigger wave board on bigger days. On about half my recent sessions I used my 7’ Novak quad. On the above average days, having a slightly longer board helps while paddlng into set waves and making it down the line. However, that doesn't mean you should use a board that is appropriate for Waimea Bay or Todos.
  • Be nice. That person you yell at for “ruining your session” might be the person who has to call 911 when your board hits you in the head. And please Mr. Very Angry Local—do you really need to scream at and threaten women? I mean seriously, dude.

So let’s all pray for surf. For now, I’m back in the pool and the gym getting ready for this weekend and the next round of winter fun.

Serge Dedina is executive director of WiLDCOAST, an international conservation team that conserves coastal and marine ecosystems and wildlife. He is the author of Wild Sea and Saving the Gray Whale.

Libi Uremovic December 05, 2012 at 06:18 PM
'...Avoid the A-list spots. I heard multiple reports of crazy crowds at Swamis. There are dozens of “secondary” spots that have fewer crowds, more waves, and more rides for everyone...." i read that the spot under the pier in ib is considered the 2nd best surfing in san diego county...is that true serge..?
David H. Cheresh December 05, 2012 at 07:27 PM
Take a shot at spots like Hollywood-by-the-Sea (Silver Strand), which offers a very lengthy stretch of pure "beach break" surf, beautiful shifting peaks, and solid double-overhead faces with pure fall and winter integrity. Nasty waves, sparse crowds, and light-green, translucent rows of energy make HBS a must for the serious and capable surfer. ABOVE ALL, RESPECT THE LOCALS.
Serge Dedina December 05, 2012 at 08:45 PM
Libi: The IB pier is a second tier spot for San Diego County--it can get good, but it is hit or miss and pretty windy. A-list spots are more wind protected and are generally reefs and or points that offer up waves that are more consistent and rideable. The IB pier is generally closed out. David: Thanks for your mention of the Silver Strand (up north). And you are correct-I should have mentioned something about respecting the lineup and local surfers. Most learning surfers today have little concept of the lineup or what it means.
Paul Dykes December 07, 2012 at 04:57 AM
I had no idea that God bequeathed part of his ocean to you just because your parents live close by. Wow. How very presumptuous of you.
Paul Dykes December 07, 2012 at 04:59 AM
How about, ABOVE ALL, RESPECT THE BEACH. What exactly have you done to earn my respect? See ya in the water.

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