You might have started surfing last summer in small, gentle summer waves. You got completely hooked, so hooked that you don’t even mind the cold. You got yourself a nice, warm wetsuit and are dead keen not to let the winter chill to keep you out of the water. I’m very proud of you frothing gidget.
There might be only one small challenge, well, actually it’s a big challenge. In winter, the small gentle waves you are used to from summer turned into proper big waves. The winter swells are usually much stronger than the summer swells (unless it’s a summer cylone swell) delivering big waves. They are created by big low pressure systems off the coast.
Predominantly in winter, the swells are coming from the South which means that beaches like Bondi who are facing South get the whole brunt and get much bigger in winter. Ok, admittedly, at the moment we have a NE swell which means Tama, Bronte, Maroubra are bigger than Bondi but that’s more the exception during winter).
That also means for beginner gidgets, that it’s mostly too big to surf. Even though we know you are super brave already because you are determined to surf despite the cold, you are not quite ready throw yourself into 6ft Bondi close-outs (and don’t worry it’s not fun for more experienced surfers either).
But where to go?
If you don’t have a car and you are forced to stick to Bondi, you can always try the North corner, which is usually much smaller. And remember, you don’t have to get out the back anyway. Just play in the whitewash and practice your pop-ups. You can never have enough pop-up practice and by the time, the size is a bit more manageable again, you’ll be catching and standing up in green waves in no time.
If you have a car or friends with car, you might want to go for a drive. What you are looking for is a protected corner. E.g. any beach that is facing North or North East will be protected by the South swell. Some of the waves will still get in but they will be smaller and gentler. You are now wondering how the hell will you know a) where the swell is coming from and b) what’s a North facing beach?
Any surf report sites like coastalwatch, swellnet, seabreeze or willyweather will tell you which direction the swell is coming from. You can tell by learning how to read swell maps and watching the waves too but it takes a bit of practice. For now, best just hope online and read the surf report.
In order to find out what’s a North facing beach, look at a map i.e. Google maps and find a beach that’s open to the North or Northish at least. Have a look…you’ll find some of Sydney’s Northern beaches like South Manly, Collaroy or South Palm Beach. They should be smaller in big South swells.
In contrast, if you look at Bondi, you’ll see how it’s open towards the South and won’t get as big a wave if the swell is coming from the East compared to East facing beaches like Tamarama or Bronte.
You can also buy one of the little wave-finders. They are little surf-guides that show the best swell direction for each beach. So if it says, South swell magnet, DON’T go there. The surf-guides are generally written for more experienced surfers who are generally looking for bigger waves so just do the opposite of what the surf-guide tells you. If the surf report says, swell coming from the South, look for a beach that’s best in North East swell and go there.
I hope it did not do your head in too much. It takes a while until you get the hang of the swell direction (see also surf report crash course) but you’ll see with a bit of time and experience, it will all come together eventually and in the meantime, just ask the right people. So if it’s too complicated to get your head around it just now, don’t be too shy to just ask in your local surf shop for example. They should be able to tell you where you can find a protected corner.