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What Are Good Surfing Conditions?

   September 23rd, 2020   Posted In: Articles   Tags:

What Are Good Surfing Conditions?

What happens on those days that leave you stoked?

Surfers are obsessed with knowing when the optimum surfing conditions are going to hit their local break. Like most things in this world, surfers come in all different shapes and sizes. We all have a different idea of what makes up good surfing conditions. There are going to be tons of variables from person to person but there are also several things that all surfers can agree on. Some of them are basic but some get somewhat technical.

Obviously, the weather

The weather is very important. If it is raining cats and dogs out it is pretty safe to say those aren’t going to be good surfing conditions. Sunny and no clouds is my favorite. My local spot is Ocean Beach in San Francisco, California. The area gets a lot of fog which doesn’t mess with the waves all that much but I just don’t like it cause I can’t see where I am in reference to the sand. The weather tends to be a major factor for me when judging good surfing conditions. Other people may like it overcast or cloudy. You get the point.

Checking out the surf report

Let’s use a Surfline report for Ocean Beach as an example of what makes good surfing conditions. You can see this 6-day stretch of days will be dynamic as far as the surf goes.

I’m writing this on the first day of fall 2020 which is when the surf starts getting better at Ocean Beach. You can see this year it is right on schedule.

what are good surfing conditions

The Biggest Factor

Size matters. Depending on how good you are or how brave you are, everyone’s preference for the perfectly-sized wave is different. That means, everyone’s definition of good surfing conditions are going to be a bit different. For me, perfect sized waves are chest high to 2-foot overhead. They are comfortable for me and allow me to push the limits without fearing that I will get badly hurt. Many longboarders will tell you that good surfing conditions involve 2 to 4-foot waves. An expert big wave surfer might only classify a good day as over 15-feet. It’s all about skill, preference, and comfort levels when defining your own good surfing conditions.

what are good surfing conditions

The Other Key Player

The wind is a huge thing to consider when it comes to good surfing conditions. Most surfers, me included, would agree that no wind is the best. No wind produces very clean, glassy conditions on the water’s surface. This makes everything easier and more fun.

We all know that beaches can be a magnet for wind so getting a day with little to no wind can be a blessing in some areas, especially Ocean Beach. It is a west-facing beach and it often gets blasted by onshore winds from the west that make the conditions choppy and horrible. You can see those winds highlighted in pink. They hardly let up for the first 2-days of the 6-day period.

You can see there is a brief window in green where the wind shifts but then immediately comes back to strong onshore. Sadly though, the waves get too big for me to go out Friday. I will probably go out just to spectate since it is expected to be so big and the weather is expected to be warm and sunny.

When it call comes together

what are good surfing conditions

There are those days when everything seems to fall into place. You get nice-sized, longer period waves that have some good power. There is also little to no wind and the breeze that does happen to be in play is from an offshore direction. And finally, the weather is nice and warm.

This all seems to be coming together in the later portion of the forecast from above. Surfline tends to hardly ever gives Ocean Beach a rating better than “Fair to Good.” When they rate it that way there are usually very good surfing conditions in my eyes.

To me, Monday will have a nearly perfect definition of good surfing conditions. Good sized swells 4 to 6-feet along with light winds that are blowing from the northeast which makes them offshore.

You can also see that Sunday will be a fun day as well even though the waves will be bigger. The winds still seem to cooperate in the 6 am to 12 pm window. I would have no problem arguing that Sunday’s conditions could also be labeled good surfing conditions for Ocean Beach. If you dig further into that forecast you can see that the distance between the 6.4-foot swells is at around 11-seconds which means the waves will have plenty of power and consistency.

Judging the Waves

If you surf more than 3 times a month it might be worth it to invest in Surfline so you have access to their network of cameras and forecasts. That way you can have a good idea for yourself if there are good surfing conditions before you jump in the car. The reports are usually accurate and helpful when you are trying to put your own quick forecast together before you go. But, no matter how many cameras you watch, you never know what it will actually be like until you go out there.

Wes Severson is a fitness enthusiast and bodyboarder from San Francisco, CA who is always at Ocean Beach hitting the waves. He is also an Emmy Award-winning broadcast news writer and producer and a recording artist who goes by the name Wes Magic.

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