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 of the year 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.
Here are some winter destination spots in California and globally that are worth a visit.
Rincon: This Queen of the Coast is located between Ventura and Santa Barbara and is California’s best point break, and it 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.
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 make 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.
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.
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 spent 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.
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.
Serge Dedina is the Executive Director of WiLDCOAST and the author of Wild Sea: Eco-Wars and Surf Stories from the Coast of the Californias.