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Learn how to forecast surf in the PNW with this guide to the basics.

Long Range Forecasts – I don’t trust the TV weather people when they predict 7 or more days out. For Seattle or coastal weather, I use the NOAA marine forecast site a few days before a class or my personal surfing time. Marine Forecast 

Check if there’s local weather and/or surf forecast apps for your area.

What do I look for?

Swell Direction – For the Strait of Juan de Fuca, I want a NW or W swell. S or SW doesn’t work as well, it has to get into the Strait. If you were in Vancouver Island, you may want a SW or W, but not a NW.  For WA – NW is best. Westport works well with a S, SW, W or sometimes with a NW swell.

And.. Period – This is the time between each wave crest (top of wave). Small period means storm surf. Long period means powerful waves.  Long periods don’t work on the Strait as it flows by like a river skipping the beaches.

Wave Height (WVHT): 7.9 ft
5-day plot - Dominant Wave Period Dominant Wave Period (DPD): 11 sec

Compass degrees to determine specific angles. Each coastal beach has a specific direction people prefer.  Over time you’ll figure out which you conditions you like best for your skill level.

Mean Wave Direction (MWD): WNW ( 283 deg true )

 

Wind Direction – No wind or light offshore winds are preferred at most breaks. For the Strait, S is offshore. East for Westport. I use a few wind apps as not all are accurate. Get a cross selection.  I’ve found SailFlow to work well as well as Windy.

Wind Direction (WDIR): E ( 90 deg true )
5-day plot - Wind Speed Wind Speed (WSPD): 19.4 kts
5-day plot - Wind Gust Wind Gust (GST): 23.3 kts

 

Tides – Waves break different at each beach during varying tide level. You may have a preferred height for a wave type you like at a specific beach.  Sometimes there’s no wave at other heights.  I use NOAAA Tides and Currents app

Swell Defined

Swell are rolling waves generated from offshore storms.

Primary Swell – This is the main swell that is most direct and more powerful.

Secondary Swell – This is a lesser swell usually generated from local wind or other distant but less powerful storms.

Translated:
5′ NW swell. 5′ is a good size both on the coast and on the Strait. By the time it reaches Port Angeles it could be 5′ or knocked down to 2-4′.  Wind direction and tides effect wave size.

12 second period – This is the distance between each wave. Storm surf is lower, so 5-9 sec. This means the waves will be closer to each other making it harder to catch waves and you’ll have less clean wave faces. Calmer seas and less wind but more powerful waves will be from 12-18sec more preferred by experienced surfers.

Wind Direction – For the Strait, South (comes from south) is preferred as it creates ‘offshore conditions’ building up wave faces making them more ridable. W is ok. North creates ‘onshore’ conditions which flattens waves faces making ‘mushy’ waves thus less clean wave faces to surf.

This is great for beginners as they just want a ride, don’t necessarily need a perfect wave and the break will be less crowded.  East wind kills the incoming W or NW swell, At Hobuck, a SE or E wind creates offshore waves, W is onshore.

Alternative Surf Option

In Seattle for Freighter surf, we need a lower tide for our breaks to work at all.  I determine tides using a few tools depending on what’s available and/or if I have an internet connection. I prefer a printed book by Captain Jacks (I have one in the car too) and Mobile Graphics, an online site. Some like Dairiki which I is local.

In reading tide charts, note that those are just predictions. Wind, current and recent heavy rain (flooding) will speed up or slow down tides. The Strait of Juan de Fuca is particularly hard to predict, it can be 1-2hrs off the charts in either direction.

Check out my online Puget Sound Surfing Guide for detailed tips on catching these waves.

That’s a lot of info to digest. As surfers we become amateur oceanographers, weather men/women and scientists.

The key to improving as a surfer is to go often and over time you get it figured out.  Even with all the best satellite, radar and even your own experience, you can get stumped after a 3hr drive and not find good waves. We’ve all been there. But you won’t learn if you don’t go.

 

Safety & Common Sense.. And always use a leash and apply Surfer’s Etiquette on the water to prevent collisions and negative feelings toward you by other surfers.

My 3 key etiquette rules are

  • One person per wave.
  • Don’t take a wave if others are paddling out directly towards you.
  • When paddling back out after a ride, don’t paddle out directly in line with those surfing in. Lastly, share waves.
  • As SUPs we can take more waves than traditional surfers, and this can lead to jealously or a sense that you’re a wave hog. Sit a few out or give that surfer who’s been patiently waiting for a perfect wave his/her turn.
  • Learn Surfer’s Etiquette here.

 

If new to surfing or traveling, ask a local surf shop for tips on where and when to go for your skill level. Take a lesson if you haven’t surfed before, this will save you tons of lost waves!

Check out my book Stand Up Paddling Flat Water to Surf and Rivers for tips on how to SUP surf as well as surf forecasting, beach types, etc. I also teach SUP surfing all year round in Washington State.

Get geared up for Fall and Winter Surfing with my online store!

Any questions give me a holler: rob@166.62.36.48 / 206.465.7167
Check out my SUP classes – beginning to advanced instruction and PSUPA Certification.

Check out my online Puget Sound Surfing Guide

Salmon Bay Paddle SUP Tips

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