This guest post was contributed by K Rob.
The 25-mile stretch of Southern California coastline from Encinitas to Point Loma isn’t as world changing as the North Shore of Hawaii, but it remains an unparalleled surf destination. In the center of this stretch is La Jolla, the jewel.
The most significant La Jolla surf spots are Black’s, WindanSea, and Bird Rock. A dozen other spots are also good when conditions come together. The best La Jolla surf spot for learning is La Jolla Shores – quality waves can be found near the pier and get smaller to the south toward the La Jolla Beach and Tennis Club.
From La Jolla Shores to Pacific Beach the bottom is nearly all rocky. However, the bottom can be avoided because most of the reef spots in La Jolla break the best on higher tides – meaning there is more water between you and the bottom. The tide changes as much as 8 feet during winter (full and new moon). Surf the reefs as the tide starts to rise and, as the water rises, you’ll see how much difference it makes.
Winter offers bigger, more consistent and challenging La Jolla surf. From October to April, a wetsuit is pretty much required. Summer swells are smaller and the water is sometimes warm enough for surf trunks. I call it warm when the water is over 70 degrees. Occasionally during summer, swells from the south can get large and present a challenge. Remember, when it comes to waves the bigger, the better.
Paddling is the key to surfing. It makes it much easier to surf when you can paddle with speed. Paddle fast and you will catch waves. It takes work and weeks to develop the right muscles, but once you can paddle the rest is easy. A good swimmer might make the transition in days.
Surf basics: wind, tide, swell, and crowd.
Wind is better in the morning, but many afternoons can also have favorable winds. Winds that blow out to sea or offshore are the best. No wind is the best wind. Glassy days make paddling and surfing as easy as possible. Wind has less effect on the reefs due to kelp beds that help smooth the water.
Tide in the medium range, around +3 feet, is surfable at most La Jolla surf spots. Super low tides (minus) exclude most of the reef breaks, while the beaches stay good. I use a Tide App, which gives me a graphical display. A tide swing can radically change the conditions, in some cases to your advantage.
Swell, the part that matters, forms by storm winds a long way away. If the storm is too close the wave quality can be diminished. Use SurfLine or StormSurf Web sites to see current conditions and forecasts. Swells can be predicted several days to more that a week in advance. I have several friends who will plan last-minute trips around a forecasted swell. The best of all days are when a far-travelled swell hits during a sunny offshore period when tides are favorable.
A crowd can take the fun out of a good session. It’s always nice to paddle out and get a few waves when it’s not crowded. Really early on cold weekday winter mornings can be a good call. By late morning most surfers who have jobs are gone – in La Jolla that is many. If it’s really good they will all be back later. Choose to paddle out where you see waves and when you see fewer folks in the water, and always be on alert for changes. It could be a change in tides or a change in the winds, a sudden increase in swell or a convenient decrease in the number of people in the water that make your session special.
La Jolla is generally a friendly place to surf and once you learn the basics and some of the social rules, you can paddle out anywhere. Remember to hang on to your board and don’t drop-in on anybody.
Kevin L. Robinson is a Lecturer in the Department of Geological Sciences, San Diego State University. He’s been surfing La Jolla waves for nearly 30 years. You can contact him at @PacificPhotos