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Summer is not the peak of surf season

Right around this time of year the mainstream surf media loves to run articles extolling the many virtues of summer surfing. Most are written with the premise that even the most hardcore among us are proclaiming devotion to winter surf and only secretly love summer, only we just won’t admit it, concerned perhaps that doing so significantly lowers the “core-score.”

And on the surface, what’s not to love? In many ways summer represents hope. Just the mere anticipation of warmer water (remember last summer ... it was downright decadent!) cheers our cold weary bones. The extra daylight fills us with a youthful exuberance that we might actually squeeze two surf sessions into our day. Losing the fullsuit is an instant loss of five pounds or more. Suddenly the back, hips and shoulders don’t quite hurt as much. Rumors abound that any day the “Big Swell from the South” will show. Like a children’s game, with each re-telling the swell somehow gets bigger, and more powerful, with words and phrases tossed about like tourists in the shore pound at WindanSea. “New Zealand,” “220 degrees” and “the south shore was 10-15 feet yesterday!” Let’s face it; the anticipation of summer does have a way of making us feel young, giddy and carefree again.

But, if we’re going to keep it real, by about the fourth of July, most of us are over it. South swells are a fickle, elusive experience at best, traveling thousands of miles across a vast ocean with lots of variables along the way, including shifts in wind and currents. Islands such as Tahiti block our restricted south-swell window. The crowds, driven by rumor, speculation and the latest surf forecast, are swarming and potentially dangerous. The fog can be downright persistent, and sometimes the water isn’t very warm.

Indeed, for the vast majority of seasoned, serious surfers, winter represents the pinnacle of surfing in San Diego with fall coming in at a close second. It’s easy to see why we are captivated by both, our fairly open, west-facing coast exposes us to a generous swell window from Alaska to Hawaii throwing powerful, consistent and often clean-faced surf into San Diego waters. Cold water can be a powerful force separating the “men-from-the-boys” so to speak, giving a bit of welcome relief from summer crowds. However, over the past few years, with improved wetsuit function and the increased popularity of surfing, there are definitely more “men” in the water than ever before.

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The great thing about fall is that these three months seem to sport great surf all over the world, spreading local surf populations onto a global playing field. I used to fantasize my kids were in year-round school, and we’d spend our fall breaks surfing the sand bars in the south of France, the endless left points of Peru or the famous groins in Australia; the possibilities are endless for scoring good surf from September to November. Late-season swells from New Zealand, early seasons swells from Alaska, offshore winds and fires all contribute to the autumn experience in San Diego.

As an added bonus, most of the tourists are gone and the kids are back in school. We are hopeful the warm water sticks around a bit longer (come on El Niño!), but over the past few years, the water temperature seems to drop precipitously by early October.

So what about spring, the oft’ maligned season? Spring’s arrival borders on obnoxious, its punctuality notorious. On March 1 the winds come. Steady, cold, often blustery and onshore. It’s not a wind generally conducive to great surf. Record-breaking heat waves heralding the beginning of what is sure to foreshadow an epic summer are unceremoniously replaced by either dour, relentless fog or blustery, winter-like storms that force us back into fullsuits. All this aside, spring is fast becoming my favorite season for surf. There’s no expectation for epic swells, warm water or offshore winds. Low expectations mean the actual experience has nowhere to go but up. The tourists haven’t yet arrived, the kids are still in school, and the hardcore winter crowd is over it. Sure my new standard for surfing may well be, “I’ve surfed worse,” but there is something inherently charming, liberating even, about surfing for the mere sake of just getting wet. And really, isn’t that what surfing is all about?