So you did a bunch of lessons with a surf school and you can’t understand why one day you were surfing like 6-time world champ Kelly Slater and the next was a total disaster.
Conditions are the most overlooked aspect of learning to surf. Why? Unlike all veteran surfers, you haven’t yet learnt that the ocean tells you when you can or can’t surf. Surf schools know this but even if the conditions are horrendous for the weekend you are still booked in, locked and loaded into the washing machine.
So what constitutes good and bad conditions? Let’s get one thing out of the way: sunshine has zero effect on surf conditions. In fact, winter is the best time of the year for great surf. There’s no need to live in fear of the cold as wetsuit technology has evolved to allow us to surf in polar bear territory. If you have a budget to buy gear, get a second-hand piece of crap board and the best wetsuit out there. For children, there is no such thing as he or she will grow into it. The wetsuit must fit very tightly from day one. If Twiggy Baker’s folks had given him a “he’ll grow into it” wetsuit, he wouldn’t be a three-time big wave world champ today.
What you really need to know are the wind direction and swell/wave height. as they can make and break a day of surfing. Learning to predict your next date with the ocean is just as exciting as planning a date with an attractive individual. Forecasting apps such as Windy, Magic Seaweed and Wind Guru are great and will let you know with pretty good accuracy if you should work all weekend and take Monday and Tuesday off.
I recommend the Windy app as it feels more intuitive. Some delightful folks on Youtube can help you make sense of what looks like gibberish at first. Let’s look at the basics, using Muizenberg as an example.
Most Cape-Townians don’t know that Muizenberg is the best wave in South Africa and one of the best in the world to learn to surf. With the gradient of the seafloor, the wave comes in nice and slow and the rides are long and gentle. As a beginner or even intermediate, I recommend mastering Muizies first before moving to other waves. This will also reduce the unnecessary crowding of surf spots out of your
league. This is important as the growing popularity of surfing is having a negative on those who started surfing before you were born. Between now and my next article on surf etiquette, I recommend a quick google lesson on this topic to keep you out of trouble.
Wind direction: When the wind blows from the land out to the sea, this is called offshore wind. This wind direction smoothes out any lumps and bumps, making the waves easier and more fun to ride. Wind moving from sea to land is called onshore wind. A strong onshore wind can make the sea resemble a washing machine. Onshore and offshore are probably two of the most used words by surfers and for good reason, onshore at Muizies means rather get some work done and offshore means bunk work for a day of epic-ness. Getting good at reading the forecast will
help you squeeze in one or two hours of offshore surf as the wind is seldom perfect offshore all day. Muizenberg is often cursed with the across-shore wind, which is not as bad as onshore but not worth bunking for.
Wave/swell height: If you want to get out to the backline and do some real surfing, you will need tiny waves. For a beginner, there is no such thing as too small. When most surfers are turning up their noses, you should be getting excited. These days are crucial to making leaps and bounds. Once you start getting stronger and more experienced then of course you are going to want bigger waves. Be warned though, there are three things that can destroy what could otherwise be the most insightful surf of your life: A surfboard smaller than 9 foot (trust me), high tide (mid and low tide are good) and the wind.
Lifestyle Surf Shop in Muizies also does a morning and afternoon live video report. The guy there is great at talking you through what you are looking at. The Windy app has a webcam so you can see what’s happening in real-time. My advice to becoming a pro at reading forecasting is to check your app every day and compare it with the live video report.
To book a group or individual surf lesson with Luc van der Walt, visit The Surf Guru on Facebook