Guide to Winter Surfing in Southern California

Big Waves, Small Crowds, and Cold Water

Ah, surfing in winter! The waves are bigger, the crowds are smaller, and the water is colder. Some love it, others hate it - but regardless of your feelings towards the colder months, there are waves to be surfed here in Southern California. Keep reading for our best tips to score this winter season!

Best & Worst Surf Spots in SoCal

Thankfully in Southern California, we get waves all year round, so there is not really a “worst” spot per say. Even if your favorite break isn’t working with the particular swell coming through, you can bet there is somewhere close by that is working. Some of the best spots though for winter are San Diego and South Bay LA. These spots in particular tend to miss the summer swells that come through, but turn into a surfer’s playground in the winter. Other spots in Orange County that turn on as well are Seal Beach and of course Huntington Beach and T Street, which are both some of the most consistent breaks in Orange County. Be sure to try out a few of these spots this winter to get some great waves!

a young woman laughs while paddling a yellow SUP at a kelp forest in Malibu. Best Beginner Spots

  • Los Angeles - Torrance Beach, Redondo Beach, El Porto Beach
  • Orange County - Newport Beach, Dana Point, Huntington Beach (inside section)
  • San Diego - La Jolla and Encinitas
These spots are best recommended for beginners during the winter months for multiple reasons. Some of them, like Newport Beach, don’t pick up the heavy winter swells that come through, so the waves stay mellow and soft. Beginners don’t have to worry about going out with big intimidating waves like some other places. Another reason, is many of these are very consistent - like La Jolla, El Porto and Huntington Beach. Always being able to show up and find waves takes half the trouble out for beginners, you don’t have to worry about trying to figure out the surf report yet!

For beginners, consistent spots take the worry out of figuring out the surf report

a young woman laughs while paddling a yellow SUP at a kelp forest in Malibu. Best Advanced Spots

  • Los Angeles - Manhattan Beach, Santa Monica, El Porto
  • Orange County - San Clemente, Huntington Beach, Seal Beach
  • San Diego - La Jolla (Blacks Beach), Grandview, Oceanside
Whether you are an intermediate surfer looking to step up your game wave height wise or are a seasoned veteran when it comes to surfing - these are all great spots to check out! With larger swell coming through, these spots hold up the best and create amazing waves that surfers search for all year round.

What swells to look for

Winter swells are created by strong wind in Sibera and the North Pacific

Swells that are common in winter months North and West swells. These types of swells are created by strong wind patterns and storms that are created anywhere from Siberia to the North Pacific and travel all the way down to hit our coastline (www.oclg.org Swell Origin). Keep an eye out on the reports to see what is coming through and whether your favorite break works well with that swell or not. Recommended wave height during this time to look for for beginners would be anywhere from 1-3ft, anything bigger than that may be a little too steep and dangerous!

Recommended gear

A 4/3 wetsuit should get you through the winter comfortably

Surfing during this time, in regards to gear, can be tricky as it is up to each individual's comfortable level. The surfers you see out in Southern California range from people fully covered in hoods, gloves, and booties all the way down to people still surfing in boardshorts and bikinis. It’s a total mix, and just depends on how cold you get! Overall, if you're purchasing your own wetsuit, we'd suggest having a full suit wetsuit with a 4/3 thickness - that should get you through most of winter comfortably and is rated for temperatures well into the low 50s which is a good bit colder than even the coldest SoCal water temperatures. If you tend to lose body heat quickly or still find yourself not being able to thaw off on your drive home, then you may want to consider getting booties/gloves/hood. Consult your local surf shop on what gear they have that may help too!

Tips and tricks

When you start surfing in colder temperatures, it’s best to have a system dialed in so you are prepared before and after a surf to stay warm! Here are a few simple tricks to make that easier, or to add to your surfing checklist:
  • Have a warm beverage ready to go
    This can seem pretty standard, but is important! Having a warm cup of coffee or tea before and/or after you surf in the chillier temperatures definitely helps get your internal body temp up. Plus, there’s just nothing better than checking the surf in the morning sipping on your warm cup of coffee.
  • Wear or pack layers
    beanies, socks, slippers, jackets - everything! Your best bet is to have layers on when you are surfing in the winter in Southern California as many times the temperature goes up and down, so one minute you’re freezing, and the next it can randomly feel like summer, so come prepared for anything!
  • Pack hot water to pour on yourself
    The best trick in the game! There is no better way to warm up after being in cold water than to simply pour some warm water on yourself. There are many ways you can go about this, but the easiest is to reuse a gallon water bottle (also, yay sustainability and reusing!), fill it up with hot water before you leave to surf, and then when you are out of the water you can enjoy a lovely warm water shower at your car before you head home! (Become an Amazon affiliate and link to the rinse kit?? Maybe add other products to other blog posts?)
  • Pull wetsuit over gloves and booties
    This may be something you don’t think about, but it is key (especially surfing in cold water) to make sure that your wetsuit sleeves go over your booties and gloves and are not tucked into them. This way, water does not seep into them and you can stay warmer longer.

Ready to get out there?!

Even when you're prepared, there's nothing like having a seasoned surfer show you around a new spot, or take you out for your first winter surf! Set yourself up for success with a Wavehuggers surf instructor, and grab yourself a pack of lessons! Now, through January 30th, 2021 you can take 21% off all packages! Just use the code CELEBRATE2021 at checkout. We'll make sure you stay safe, stay warm, and have a blast!