Surf Science: Swell Season


Paying attention to Earth and her movement is pretty significant when it comes to the way the world works, especially for surfing. Here’s a brief guide to understanding the world’s oceans. Don’t worry, we won’t get all science on you.

Let’s start with the easy stuff. The Southern Hemisphere, meaning the bottom half of the globe, is pretty much open for surf year-round. You can book your surf spot anywhere in the Southern Hemi just about any time of the year. The only things you’ll need to consider are the weather, water temperatures, and regular swell of your destination. If you’re planning on heading to Chile or South Australia, you’ll need a wetsuit. If you’re a topsider, don’t forget that seasons are reversed. You won’t want to book your “summer vacation” in the Southern Hemi because it’s Winter during your Summer months.

The good thing about the Southern Hemi is that you can do a quick Google search to track down the swell, weather, and water temps of a place you might want to visit. That information will give you most of what you’ll need for your trip. Once you have that, you’ll be a few clicks away from booking the surf trip of your dreams.

Water Temperatures and What They Mean

Water temperatures are essential for any trip. You need to know the water temperature to see if you can make it with shorts or if you’ll need a wetsuit. Beyond that, most of us aren’t sure what those temperatures actually mean. Above the equator, those temperatures tell us just about everything about surf. In the Southern Hemisphere, there is more open water. That means that you have less land mass. So, the water stays at roughly the same temperature throughout the year. Whether it’s Summer or Winter, the water temperature only shifts a few degrees.

On land, the temperature changes drastically. We’ve all gone to bed with perfect weather only to wake up, rush out the door, and run back in to grab a coat. Overland, temperature changes a lot, and it can change quickly. Water isn’t that way. The ocean depths maintain a steady temperature continually. In the Northern Hemi, the ambient temperature changes, and so does the wind, the fronts, and just about everything else about the weather. All of those changes mean that the swell changes, too.

Before you book a trip on the top half of the globe, you need to check the water temperature. It helps you plan more than just your wardrobe. With the temperature in mind, you’ll know what to expect for the swell. You might need to bring a board that’s a bit longer or a bit shorter.

A Storm Is Coming

If you’re heading to the Atlantic Coasts, you’ll definitely want to wait for storm season. While this might not be a great way to plan a trip, it is the best way to ensure proper surf. Looking at a map of the globe. The Pacific Ocean is a vast ocean that covers a considerable portion of the world. That means that the swell coming from these waters has more room to grow and expand. In the Northern Hemi, this is broken up by various land masses. In the Southern Hemi, the swell is almost constant.

Now look at the Atlantic Ocean, and you’ll see that the size of the ocean is much smaller. It’s a fraction of the size. The same is true of the Indian Ocean. If you are looking for large surf, you can definitely find it; you’ll just have to wait for storm season. This is why you’ll hear the weatherman talk about “El Nino” and other funky weather patterns. Without getting into all the Earth Science 101 notes, just know that those are systems that change the way the storms work.

Storms create swell, but a massive storm creates a storm surge. Anyone living in Hurricane zones such as Floridians can tell you that you would never want to surf during a hurricane, but the smart ones will tell you that a tropical storm creates the best surf you’ll see anywhere in the Americas. While you probably can’t book your trips the second you see a storm coming, you can understand the storm seasons. In the Atlantic, you’ll want to go between June and October. The water temperatures are best, and the swell is consistent. In the Indian Ocean, you’ll look to book between September and March.