There are two primary reactions to the first swell of a winter season. There are the over-frothers, usually comprised of people who have never surfed through a winter before. They may have just started the summer previous, or spent their vacations surfing but now find themselves in a position to surf daily throughout a winter. Dreams of waves above shoulder high dance through their evenings, visions of pulling into barrels and standing tall with style, gracefully exiting the tube on their very first attempt. These people barely sleep the evenings before the first winter swell arrives, checking surf forecasting websites from their phone in the middle of the night, waking their (never enthusiastic partner) from their sleep.
Then there's the second group of people. Those that know better, that know that the first swell is almost never as solid as it’s predicted. 10 feet will probably be barely 8 at most places, at the best tides, and you must pray that those tides don’t find themselves in the middle of the windiest part of the day. And if, on some circumstance, the tide and wind collaborate, and it is every inch of a solid ten feet, it will only be so at the most crowded spots. You will be sharing shoulder rubs with your entire aquatic extended family, many of whom will not know what they are doing, dropping in willy nilly without a glance so much towards the peak where they should have taken off. Many of whom will be better surfers than you, even if you are a great surfer, and they will take off on impossible looking peaks only to dazzle the crowd around you, leaving you acutely aware of your mere moderate abilities.
Most of the first group won’t even manage the paddle out, and any that do are more than likely to sit deaf and dumb on the shoulder. A good chunk of the second group will scoff at the crowd, and decide to search up and down the coast for lesser crowds, wasting precious hours of fading swell.
The trick is, somehow, to maintain the enthusiasm of the first group with the savvy of the second. San Diego beaches lit up the first ten days of December, with back to back swells signaling winter’s roaring arrival (surf-wise, if not entirely calendar-wise). You’ve gotta channel the excitement to get up and get moving early, and realize that of course Surfline overhyped it and it’s more crowded than an early bird special at a Palm Beach Denny’s, but how many of those heads bobbing in the water are dead weight, waiting to pull back at the slightest sign of a steep drop, quivering lips atop crumbling lips? You can always count on the county staples: Blacks will barrel, the beachies will be closed out but with the occasional gem on offer, Windansea will rise a solid foot over most other reefs, slightly mushy but eminently rippable.
So dredge up that fledging froth to a level above your normal cynicism. However – you must not burn out your froth too early, because this is just the start of winter, and there are many waves to come.