“Southern California is one of the most difficult places in the world to forecast surf.”
— Surf forecasting pioneer Sean Collins
Blame it on the continental shelf. Blame it on the Santa Barbara Channel Islands. Blame it on the crooked nature of San Diego’s coastline, but accurate surf predictions for any seven-day stretch in our region are spotty, at best. So, if finding a reliable forecast for the week is difficult, imagine what it’s like predicting surf for an entire season. Still, that’s what surfers and surf shop owners want. How else can we order the right surfboards when board choices range from what are generally considered small-wave vehicles like longboards, Eggs and Fishes, to mid-range Thrusters, to semi guns, to the rarely seen or surfed (in Southern California) big-wave guns. Since handmade surfboards begin at about $600 a pop, a surfer’s generally tiny budget limits purchases to maybe one or two boards a year. The gun will have to wait.
Last winter nobody in Southern California needed a big-wave gun as the waves rarely surpassed 6 feet on our local beaches. That has led surf shops this year to stockpile small-wave boards, with very few if any boards for surf in the 10-foot-plus ranges, something that can occur regularly during major el Niño years. While few climatologists believe that an el Niño (characterized by warm ocean water, heavier rain and bigger surf) will occur this year, you might want to pack a big-wave gun in your quiver, just in case. Twin fins, Fishes, Mini Simmons and Eggs are not the best options for maxed-out Todos Santos, or even big Swami’s or Black’s.
Viewing all the data I could find on the upcoming winter surf season, I left each site more confused than ever. While it is generally agreed that a weak la Niña (characterized by colder ocean water and smaller surf) will be in play, there is no certainty of this. If la Niña does become a reality, small-wave surfboards and thicker wetsuits could be flying off the racks at surf shops everywhere. If not, short-sleeved springs suits, longboards and boards in the sub-7-foot range will be in high demand. Regardless of the equipment you ride, getting in good swimming and paddling shape, and maybe losing a few pounds to compensate for those added by a thick, soggy wetsuit is probably not a bad idea.
Like you, I’m not sure how to prepare for the coming winter season because with surfing you never really know. And not knowing is one big reason we keep coming back.