Winter, as a season, isn’t a real thing in San Diego. It’s a shade of what the season means in any meaningful way compared to 80% of the rest of the world. Even a short drive east into the desert begins to resemble something more like a real winter, with temperatures low enough in the evenings to drive a real chill. For San Diego surfers, though, winter means a time to look west, and north.
Winter is the time of serious surf. It is the time of 4/3’s, and booties, and hoods, and paddling into 55 degree water that is 15 degrees warmer than the sand in front of it. Winter is the time of pin tails, step-ups, and stiff fins. Winter is being fixated on the internet watching massive waves pound the north shore, knowing that they will not be the same size when they reach the California shore, but they will be real waves nonetheless.
Winter is the definition of risk vs reward. Except for the first half of this past winter, it wasn’t.
The complete lack of waves in the fall led to the hope that maybe there was a serious winter brewing to make up for it. With the exception of a brief swell around Thanksgiving, in time to see the normal holiday crowds invade the waters with gusto, nothing showed. The weather stayed warm, even by San Diego standards, and there was a serious thought that San Diego’s best season might stay flat, and we’d all get skunked. Christmas and New Years brought mostly closeouts, like the whole town got coal in its stocking.
And then around the time that everyone thought about listing their boards with more rocker on Craigslist to make space for summer groveling boards, a funny thing happened. The faucet opened up, and it didn’t shut off for 45 days. We’d done the famine bit, but the main course was finally here.
Southern California is, by surf standards, one of the hotspots. But it isn’t a hotspot because of its exceptional wave quality. It’s a hotspot because of it’s regularity, the fact that more days a year than not you can surf some kind of wave, and that fact is exacerbated by the local lifestyle and culture that encourages that we indulge, moderately selfishly, in frequently sampling from the local wave buffet. Our winter season serves to scratch the itch for great waves that no amount of regular, average waves will relieve. So god help you if you dropped in on someone during that 45 day stretch, but southern Californians were hungry, and they weren’t sharing. Not until they’d had their fill.
By the middle to end of February, it seemed everyone had blacked-out during the flat spell. You began to hear the first complaints about wearing booties, the opined trade-off of lesser-quality waves if we could just surf them in board shorts. Just as when August rolls around, we’ll all start to bitch about the heat, and the gutless days, and the crowds of Zoni’s, and we’ll think, “how long till winter?”
So thanks for showing up, winter, we’ll see you next year. Here’s a little something for us to remember you by.