As an experienced surfer, you develop a keen sense of the dynamism of the ocean and its environment. Through daily or regular observations, each time you check the surf or travel down to go surfing on the coast, the time you take paying attention to these ocean dynamics strengthens your skills in competently surfing it. These ritualistic surf checks are essential to learning your favorite breaks.
Tidal changes, especially on full and new moons can create dramatic shifts, pulls and surges of the tide. In the winter months, we can have 11’+ tide swings in just a six hour period along the North Coast of Oregon. This creates a whole lot of motion in the ocean. Currents, riptides, and wave size can dramatically pick up speed and intensity with these tidal changes. Always checking and knowing ahead what the tide is doing when you are paddling out, not only keeps you safer but helps you to know the best session for waves with each tide.
Wind can make or break your surf session. Like the tides that are always changing, so to the wind direction and speed along the North Coast’s beaches impacts a surfer’s session. Light to moderate offshore wind cleans up the wave’s surface and shape, providing a smoother and more reeling wave to ride. This type of wind holds up the lip more and creates a more defined wave face to surf.
With higher offshore winds, dropping into the wave face becomes the challenge. Sometimes the wind is so strong that it keeps a surfer from catching their waves, literally blowing them back off of the wave or hanging them up in the lip of the wave, unable to drop in at the critical time. Strength in your paddling and prime wave positioning can help offset this high wind challenge, by being able to dig deep and being steep in order to catch them.
Onshore wind on the other hand, especially high onshore wind is a surf session breaker. As the wind switches and turns stronger onshore, the wave faces become bumpy and choppy. The waves begin breaking ahead of themselves and no longer reeling down the line. This really deteriorates a surfer’s session. So watching the wind reports before you paddle out (or take the drive down) can help forecast the best time to be in the water.
Swell heights and intervals are the next dynamic changing event to study and know. Along the North Coast, we are inundated during the late fall, winter and early spring months with fast growing and large wave producing swells, generally 8 to 12’ plus. Many times these swells have long periods or intervals, indicating more strength in them. Unlike the summer months, which are typically much smaller and slower climbing in their nature, between 2 to 6’. Summer swell intervals typically are closer together, and don’t carry as much strength in them as winter swells.
Experienced surfers will surf all seasons, once their skills are developed and they are confident in these ever changing conditions. Beginners should choose and commit to summer months to excel in their skills. Eventually over time and commitment in their beginner surfing practice, they will begin to feel like they can inch out in a little bigger swell size, out of the inside break or white water, slowly moving into the green water line up on the outside.
Surf observation even on days that may be too big for your level of surfing can give you insights that you may not otherwise understand. Watching experienced surfers in the lineup, their surf etiquette, how they navigate rip currents, the methods they use to enter and exit the ocean, and even how they paddle out can teach a more novice surfer invaluable skills to practice.
The key to developing a deep understanding of this unique dynamism is paying close attention, taking time for observation, surfing often in all seasons and being respectful of this precious natural resource, our great Pacific Ocean.