Where to go? With the guesswork more or less being taken out of wave tracking these days, no swell is a secret, no low pressure system blows through uncharted. So the game has become beating everyone to the punch, or finding for your own slice of a surfing life along the hyper-crowded California coast.
This past weekend you knew everybody was whipped up into a satellite-chart fueled frenzy. You knew every surfer and his crusty uncle was watching the purple blob amble across the North Pacific. You knew that marquee spots like Blacks and Rincon could be all-time. You also knew, with the summer-like conditions, it was going to be ridiculously packed and the only way to get a piece was to outsmart every surfer in the state. So where to go to beat the masses?
Thankfully, if you were the calculating type, there were plenty of variables to play with during this much-anticipated run of northwest swell. Firstly, there was the swell itself. Arriving from 300 degrees instead of a more westerly 280, large portions of the state south of Point Conception were shadowed. If you knew where the swell would sneak in you were already at a distinct advantage.
Energy wise, after being relatively placid for the better part of two months, the "sea state" of the North Pacific was minimal at best, which means when the storm started brewing it took considerably more energy to generate the swell than if it was blowing over an ocean that had previously been active (and was thus holding more energy). And while 45-foot seas were whipped up on Jan. 16 (the peak of the storm), the system was still 2,700 miles off of Northern California, and because of that distance traveled the lines of swell became more spaced out and the interval extended. That made it feel more like a long-interval southern hemi swell at times than a walloping west, which gave the less patient the feeling that the swell was wasn't quite all that.
Then there was the issue of tides. Thanks to big moons there were massive high tides in the morning, which tended to swamp most places out. In the afternoon it got so drained out there wasn't enough water to hit the reefs and banks properly. That means timing was everything.
In a state where every surf spot is connected by high-speed wireless to every PCH-fronting household, this swell was more a game of chess and calculation than simply a "wow bro, it's pumping" affair. It was possible to track down quality, uncrowded surf, but you had to be on the move, and you had to be in the right place at the right time ... as you can probably tell by the accompanying collection of images.