The Best Winter Surf Destinations

Serge Dedina during the recent Thanksgiving swell. Photo: Alan Jackson

From my Patch.com column this week.

This past Thanksgiving weekend swell—arguably the best run of clean waves and conditions we’ve had since Labor Day–was a great reminder why winter is the best time in California and much of the northern hemisphere to be a surfer.

Swells from the northern and western Pacific batter the coast. Offshore winds blow out of the canyons, creating perfect surfing conditions.

Although the water is cold, with a good wetsuit and attitude, you can surf for hours.

The winter surf season from November through March—is not only a great time to surf your homebreak and to visit nearby spots, it is also a great time to explore the California coastlline and the planet to catch great waves and visit beautiful beaches.

Serge Dedina surfing during the recent Thanksgiving swell. Photo: Alan Jackson.

Here are some winter destination spots in California and globally that are worth a visit.

Rincon: This Queen of the Coast that is located between Ventura and Santa Barbara and is California’s best point break, comes alive during the winter surf season. Best bet is to visit after a long run of swell midweek, when it will be less crowded. Be on the lookout for some of the world’s best surfers in the lineup including Kelly Slater, Tom Curren, Shaun Tomson and Bobby Martinez. And then explore the plethora of great surf spots and picturesque coastline from Ventura to Gaviota State Park.

Rincon fun. Photo: Jason Stutz.

Black’s: Located just north of La Jolla and south of Torrey Pines, Black’s sucks in north swells and spits out beautiful A-frames and shimmering walls. Although it is bound to be crowded with local surfers who rip, it is worth the walk down the trail to get a chance to catch a few of Black’s beautiful waves. Lookout for the resident peregrine falcons that inhabit the cliffs above the beach.

Santa Cruz: The next location for a World Surfing Reserve, Steamer Lane and the waves of Santa Cruz offer winter size, consistency and due to the plentiful kelp and prevailing winds, great conditions that making surfing all day a possibility. The crowds are fierce, the locals shred, but if you are lucky you’ll snag a few great point waves at our state’s true surf city.

Hawaii: Pick the west and north shores of Oahu, Kauai, and Maui and you are bound to find the biggest and most challenging waves of your life in warm tropical waters. There are probably no other locations to surf that are as majestic as Hanalei Bay on Kauai or Honalua Bay on Maui. Just remember to visit after the contest and holiday seasons are over.

Daniel Dedina surfing on Oahau.

Mexico: North and west swells can hit the coast from Nayarit down to northern Oaxaca. Winter is a great time to longboard the points or find great beachbreaks for shortboards and barrels. Expat surf villages such as Sayulita, Troncones and Saladita offer cool surf-style accommodations and a variety of waves. Exploring the coast and going off the beaten track is worth the effort.

The point at Saladita.

Peru. Legendary left points in northern Peru such as Mancora and Cabo Blanco turn on during north swells. The water is warm and there are plenty of places to find uncrowded waves. When I lived in Peru for a year in the mid-80s I spend a week in northern Peru in December and scored some of the best and most hollow waves of my life. Just don’t forget to take the time to visit Cuzco and Machu Pichu or the amazing Andean peaks of the Cordillera Blanca around Huaraz.

Serge Dedina surfing Cabo Blanco, Peru.

Morocco. The newest and hippest surf destination, the hollow right points north of Agadir are a lot like Baja’s north coast, with similar weather and water temps. Like Peru, this is a country where leaving the surf for a few days or more is worth it. Morocco is an amazing country, filled with stunning and historic cities such as Marrakech and Essaouira. Take the time to head east of Marrakech over the mountains to explore the Route of the Kasbahs and the Sahara.

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Spring Surf and Endless Summer Adventures

My Southwest Surf column from May 11, 2011:

I paddled out this morning at around 8 a.m.

From the end of Elm Avenue the surf looked fun. After watching a glassy and clean 3’ set roll in next to the pier with left and right corners, I put on my wetsuit and grabbed my board.

Unfortunately it was one of those days in which it looked much better than it was. After catching a few waves on the north and south sides of the pier I caught a wave in.

The surf was horrible.

Sometimes spring can bring consistent and surfable waves up and down the beach that break all day. A plethora of wind swells can come together to create A-frames up and down the beach.

Add either

Beach camp in Baja.

southerly and northerly sideshore winds and you have the classic springtime surf scenario.

Unfortunately the lack of any large swells this winter has meant that the bottom along the beach is almost uniformly flat. That is not a good sign for the south swell season. No inshore holes can mean long lines and closeouts.

The only good news is that the water is warm. It has been close to two years since we’ve experienced water in the normal range. With temperatures hovering in the low 60s’, it is time to dust off the springsuit or short-arm fullsuit.

So while Southern California can be so-so in the spring, destinations to the south, in the southern hemisphere and across the globe, are receiving lots and lots of southern ground swells.

A reef slab somewhere in NSW, Australia.

So get out the map and plan a trip to either a warm water or cold-water summer surf destination.

Your best bets for the south swell season include:

Baja: South of the Border vets know that early season southern hemis consistently pound the East Cape and places like Scorpion Bay and Punta Abreojos.

Mainland Mexico: If you like long lefts, head to Sinaloa and northern Guerrero. If you are into getting giant barrels, surf either Pascuales or Puerto Escondido.  Michoacan offers up cobblestone rivermouths like La Ticla and Nexpa, but Narco-violence can make travel there sketchy.

Surf camp in 1982 at at La Ticla, Michoacan.

South America: Lots of cold-water power is on tap in Chile and Peru during their winter. Southern groundswells offer up consistent and overhead waves. There are waves everywhere and few crowds.

Indonesia: Perfect waves, tropical waters and non-stop surf. What more do you need?

Hawaii: Warm water, lots of surf and Aloha. We’re heading to Kauai and the South Shore of Oahu in August. For me, even the leftover waves in the Islands are fun.

Australia and New Zealand: If you want rugged coastlines, friendly people, insane waves of every variety and tons of wildlife and national parks then head Down Under.

Beachie in NSW, Australia.

South Africa: This is arguably the coolest surf destination on the planet. Where else can you see elephants, lions, wildebeests and surf J-Bay.

So get off the couch and start learning why there is nothing better than spending a few days or weeks surfing perfect waves somewhere on a coast that is not your own.

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