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.