In fall the waves and beaches are again returned to the locals. Photo by Chris Ahrens
Columns Waterspot

Waterspot: Fall is the season for surfing freedom

I remember reading a Surfer Magazine article by then Surfer editor Steve Pezman. I don’t know when, but that story must have run more than 30 years ago, since Pezman began publishing what many consider surfing’s top media source, The Surfer’s Journal, around three decades ago. Steve’s piece, titled “Feeling Fall” was short, concise, and heralded the coming of a season characterized by waves of change, and surf that is typified by offshore winds.

This coming fall will be my 58th as a surfer, and I welcome it like I have the preceding 57. While it has become routine to break out a full suit and a narrower surfboard for the season, I never get tired of riding fall surf, or waving goodbye to the summertime crowds as the beaches are taken back by local surfers and the Aleutians send cold, lonely power swells our direction.

As anyone who has surfed more than a few years realizes, wind is a required element for the formation of waves, but localized onshore or side-shore winds decrease wave quality. Offshore winds, on the other hand, increase wave quality and often rank as a surfer’s ideal conditions. These generally seasonal winds seem to blow the world clean while sending liquid pellets hard as hale into the faces of the surfers paddling down those groomed slopes.

I recall my first encounter with hard offshore winds. It was at Newport Beach’s 56th Street. The waves were head high, perfectly shaped and bitter cold as we were without wetsuits and gusts blew a fire hose of spray our direction. In spite of the cold, I stayed out for hours and believed I was getting tubed on each wave, although I now realize I was probably many feet ahead of the curl. Nonetheless, I was alone with my aquatic dream until the wind shifted from offshore to onshore and turned ruler edge perfection to nearly un surfable mush.

While offshore winds have become associated in the minds of many California homeowners with wildfires, to surfers they are linked nearly exclusively with perfect surf. Often called “Devil Winds,” offshores, or Santanas, for surfers, is heaven-sent.

Offshore winds are generally localized and arise in conjunction with conflicting sea and land temperatures. In cases where the coast is curved, one spot can blow onshore while the other howls offshore. This is a secret you must learn on your own since I have taken a personal oath of secrecy. The result of winds blowing offshore is that surf spots often too fast to ride are transformed into perfect A-frame peaks, held up for longer before breaking, causing the wave to become steeper and more hollow.

Surfers not accustomed to offshore winds can find them difficult to negotiate. On rare occasion, they have even blow inexperienced surfers out to sea. Tips: Don’t get blown out of position, get into good paddling shape, and take an extra stroke or two when dropping in. Since there is a reduced chance of pearling on takeoff, you can drop in later than you usually would. Of course, you’ll find all this out for yourself as fall is upon us and with it, cooler weather and long-awaited offshore winds.

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