An important, but often overlooked aspect of surfing is finding good waves to surf. It sounds super basic, but this is a crucial skill in surfing. The best surfers are also the best at reading ocean conditions. The ability to decipher the ever-changing variables of tide, wind and swell is an art form that is acquired over time. However, if you have a basic understanding of our local breaks, it can make it easier for you to get good waves. So to help you on your quest I’ve included general characteristics of our nearby spots:
“Porto” is usually a foot or two bigger than surrounding beaches because of an offshore, submarine canyon and an outer reef system that focuses swell here. Waves tend to break further off the beach and it is common to see big riptides. These “rips” often create deep spots in the ocean floor, which can lead to great surfing conditions. El Porto also boasts a large swell window (anything from a 180 degree south to a 300 degree Northwest can get in here) making it one of the most consistent and crowded spots on the coast.
North Manhattan breaks very similarly to El Porto, but usually just a touch smaller. However, the lack of parking in the area means it’s often easier to get good, uncrowded waves. The coastline bends slightly to the south around Marine Street, making this stretch of beach more south-facing thus a bit smaller on a northwest swell, but bigger than nearby beaches on a south swell.
The Palos Verdes peninsula and Catalina Island block most south swells from getting into this stretch of beach. Waves here tend to break closer to shore and pack a lot of punch. The area from north of the pier to about 24th St. has an outer reef system that focuses swell from the northwest. The biggest of those swells will actually break on the outer reef called Cable Cars about 1/3 of a mile offshore. Unfortunately, the typical beach break waves are often walled, so its best when there is some type of short period energy breaking up the lines.
The waves here break very close to shore and feature quick, intense rides. Accordingly, it’s common to see more body boarders in this area than any other spot in the South Bay. Generally, it is smaller here than surrounding beaches, but on a big, northwest swell this area can be all-time. Topaz loves a big northwest with a touch of wind swell and Burnout can transform to big, heavy barrels on a solid winter swell. Pros from other areas have been known to travel here when the conditions are right.
So there you have it, a very basic and quick overview of our local beaches. Now it’s up to you to go out and put yourself in the right place at the right time. When you do, there’s no better feeling in the world.