top of page

Understanding Ocean Conditions

Elements that shape desirable wave riding conditions are the wind, tide, swell, and location. There is always a favorable combination of these conditions for each surf spot. All surf spots have their own unique formula, and when those variables shift into place they'll create wave riding perfection. Understanding these principles will help you choose which spot and the best time to head out for a surf.


There are three distinct types of wind conditions. Winds that blow onshore, side shore, and offshore. Start to think in terms of reading a compass when learning about how winds affect surfing. Onshore winds come from the Northwest (NW), West (W), Southwest (SW), and South (S). These are the least favorable and make for choppy bumps on the surface of the water. Side shore winds come from the North (N) and Southeast (SE) and create partially bumpy sections on the waves, making it fun to surf. Offshore winds come from Northeast (NE) and East (E) which grooms the surface of the wave making it smoother to ride on. Most of California's coastline faces South and West. The best wind for surfing will always come from the East, from the desert. These dry desert winds are called Santa Anas and last from October-February but very rarely do they happen. There are also winds known as "thermals'' which travel from the West caused by changes in pressure. West facing beaches are more exposed to thermals while South facing beaches are more sheltered and allow for better surfing conditions. Get to know the directions the wind can blow from and what direction the beaches face that you want to surf at. The relationship between the angle of the wind and the direction at which the beach is pointing toward translates into a certain condition. This takes a trained eye and built up experience to master.