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Del Mar Surfing is Best when the "Santa Ana" Winds Blow

Even before I wake, I can tell something’s changed. First thing I notice before I open my eyes is the sound of the surf. It’s loud, with some of the waves cracking like rifle shots. I can feel the air is much drier, warmer, the normal coastal humidity is gone (which is why the sound of the waves breaking is so loud and clear.) Without looking, I know the wind is blowing offshore, whipping through the San Dieguito River coastal canyon from the desert out to sea. The Santa Ana winds are here. While most of the state fears these ‘devil winds’ because of the real danger of the wildfires they fan, surfers rejoice because the offshore winds make the waves near perfect.

I trot over to the beach at 25th St. to see how big the waves are and I notice the corduroy lines out to sea. A South swell! As I get closer, I see the rainbows formed from the tops of the breaking waves being blown off from the strong offshore wind. Unlike most of the year, as the waves form, they usually have the prevailing Northwesterly winds pushing them from behind towards shore, and helping them crumble over as they break. However when the Santa Ana winds come, they hit the breaking waves head-on, pushing them straight up.

The effect is a near perfect wave, which holds up clean and cylindrical before it breaks, the collapsing cylinder, or tube, making the loud ‘rifle shot’ sound as it closes on itself. For a surfer, it means the chance to ride the wave longer, on a clean face, and the possibility of getting ‘tubed’ or tucking inside the face of the wave as it throws over and covers up the surfer as she streaks along the wave face.

South swells create the “lefts” (as you face the beach, you take off going to your left) and for me, a ‘regular foot’, that means going ‘backside’, or my back is to the breaking wave and I face the shore as I ride. I love the Santa Ana lefts, and the bigger, the better. The larger waves have more of a face to work and are usually faster.

I run back to the house, get into my wetsuit, grab my 9’4” Walden longboard and run back to the beach, race into the surf, hop onto the board prone, and paddle hard to get out to the lineup. I feel the wind pushing me out, and pushing the water with me as well. I get through the impact zone, and as I climb over a 6 foot breaking wave, the wind helps me over as it blows the top off the wave into a rainbow of spray droplets around me. I scan the horizon for the next wave and see a set starting south at 20th street.

As it approaches me, I paddle to where I think the peak will be, wait, and just as it comes, I spin the board around and paddle hard to catch it. The strong wind is now my enemy as it is blowing in my face, slowing down my efforts to catch this big one. One extra burst of paddling, and I feel the board now moving on its own. I jump to a squat and turn the board into the rising face. Just as it is about to break, the wind, now my friend again, holds up the wave into a perfect barrel, and as I scream along the wave face for about 50 yards, it covers me for about 5 seconds before it catches me and throws me ‘over the falls’. Yes!!!

Awoooh!!! I’m hooting with joy as I come up for air, slide back on my board and go out again for more. It doesn’t get any better than this! For the next two hours, this is the bliss of surfing Del Mar beach breaks on a South swell with the Santa Ana winds!

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