Amy Lambert, editor of the Mellow Waves blog, shares some tips on finding waves to suit your ability level.
I consider myself to be an ok surfer, I’ve been surfing for eight years, but I never get enough time in the water to be really good, having to have a job usually sees to that.
For years I was convinced I was a rubbish surfer, but one day, after a run of particularly frustrating surfs, I came to the realisation that I was just trying to surf the wrong types of waves for my ability.
I discovered that I am simply not interested in surfing big, gnarly waves and I have way more fun when I’m on the smaller waves.
"I discovered I have more fun when I'm on the smaller waves."
I learnt that picking the waves you’re surfing is just as important as your ability and having the right kit. If I go out in massive, messy waves, I won’t catch much and I just won’t enjoy it.
Now it’s not so much of a problem if you live by the sea and can go again the next day, but what if you only get two weeks each year to surf… finding those mellow waves is even more important.
Why getting it right is important
Looking back, this probably explains why my first few surf trips weren’t quite the Endless Summer dream I’d imagined, more flailing around in the whitewater and getting frustrated.
With hindsight (and having gone on a lot more surf trips since) I can see why. At the time I was picking my destinations straight out of the Stormrider guide (as if the name hadn’t given it away that these were aimed at surfers who actually knew what they were doing!) and the people I was travelling with were much better surfers than me. They were always searching for bigger (and scarier) waves.
So I thought, if surfing the right waves can make a the difference between an ok surf trip and an epic surf trip, I needed to work out how to find them. Here are my top seven tips so you can find your perfect waves too:
[part title="How To Find Easy Waves to Surf When You're at Home"]
1) Learn what conditions work best for your regular breaks
Keep a note of your sessions, what the conditions were and how good the waves were - the swell and wind direction, the tide, the swell height etc. That way you can check current conditions against previous surfs to see if you think the waves will be any good.
Now, I’ve lived in Cornwall for nearly four years now and I still struggle to remember where should be best according to the conditions so I have to keep a track of it.
But if, like me, you’re useless at remembering to do stuff like this, don’t panic help is now available in the form of a nifty little app called Johnny On The Spot. It logs it all for you automatically just by taking a photo, and then lets you compare current conditions with your previous surfs.
It’s made it way easier to track everything (and remember to do it in the first place) and means I can make better decisions about which beach to go to.
2) Look for shelter
Sheltered spots are less open to the elements often meaning smaller waves and less wind. For example in Newquay, most surfers head to Fistral, but when that gets good, it also gets rammed.
Because it’s more sheltered, the bay usually has mellower waves and at lower tide the whole bay opens up, so there are lots of peaks and the added bonus of everyone being more spread out.
"Surf reports are usually written by really good surfers. Which means that their idea of ‘good’ waves is probably quite different to yours."
So if there’s a big swell and the usual spots are too big, look for shelter. Is one end of the beach more sheltered than the other? Is there another beach around the headland? How do you know if a spot is more sheltered? Look on Magic Seaweed - each spot has a map of the break with arrows for the wind and swell direction.
3) Read the reports, but not too closely
Surf reports are usually written by really good surfers. Which means that their idea of ‘good’ waves is probably quite different to yours.
If they think it’s too small, it’s quite possible that if you’re on a longboard or a foamie, it’s going to be super fun, and less crowded because everyone else will have thought it’s not worth going.
And the reverse is also true, when they get super excited because the waves are amazing, bear in mind this might mean double overhead with a 20 minute paddle out… definitely not my idea of fun!
[part title="How Do You Find Easy Waves to Surf When You're Abroad?"]
4) Make friends with the locals
Nothing beats local knowledge, and you can bet in almost every surf destination, there are a few lesser known spots that have the lovely mellow waves you’re looking for… you just need to find them.
This could mean a bit of exploration, but a much faster way to guarantee finding these waves is to make friends with the locals.
I’ve found some cracking spots as a result of striking up a conversation with local surfers, including an epic right hand point break in Costa Rica. And by epic I mean that gorgeous conveyor belt style, chest-high, clean, rolling waves, not big scary barrels.
"Don’t forget, these spots are often closely guarded secrets..."
Don’t be a dick about it though… it helps to be genuinely interested in making friends with people. Asking straight off the bat probably won’t get you very far.
And don’t forget, these spots are often closely guarded secrets, so don’t go back to town broadcasting where you’ve been to everyone else, and definitely don’t post it all over the internet… that’s not cool!
5) Go in the off-season
Just because there’s a specific surf season, it doesn’t mean that they don’t get any surf at all, it often just means mellower waves and less people.
Southern Spain is a great example of this… the main surf season is winter, and summer is rammed with tourists, but in spring and autumn they still get lovely, ridable waves, with hardly anyone on them.
Sri Lanka is another. There are still heaps of waves on the west coast in the off-season when the better-known east coast isn’t working at all.
6) Go with the right people
If you’re on the hunt for mellow waves, you need to travel with people that want to surf the same sort of waves.
I’ve been on several surf trips with people that are much better surfers than me. And spent the whole time alternating between frustrated and scared shitless. And if they’re all riding shortboards, they won’t be able to catch the same sort of waves that you want to surf.
7) Go somewhere with lots of different options, and be prepared to travel around when you get there
You can’t guarantee what the waves are going to be doing when you get there so it’s key to pick somewhere that has lots of different options suited to different conditions.
"It’s key to pick somewhere that has lots of different options suited to different conditions."
Look for spots that have beaches facing various directions, with some open and some more sheltered. Again, Magic Seaweed will be your friend here using their area satellite maps, where you can zoom right in and see where the spots are and which way they face.
If you pick somewhere famed for big waves, or with just a few breaks your options are limited.
If it’s too big when you arrive it’s not the end of the world if you’re there for a month. But if you're only there for a few days and you’re going to be really pissed off if you can’t get in at all.
[part title="Where Are the Best Places in the World to Find Easy Waves to Surf?"]
350 days of offshore winds in a year and loads of different beach breaks, makes Southern Nicaragua a great destination for mellow waves. I went there for a few weeks and ended up staying a year and half… the waves are that good!
Maderas is the main surfing beach and is pretty open so picks up a lot of swell. Playa Hermosa is slightly more sheltered and a little smaller than Madera. Although a bit of a trek in the car it’s worth it to see miles of gorgeous, sandy beach with peaks lined up the whole way along.
"I went there for a few weeks and ended up staying a year and half… the waves are that good!"
Remanso is a gorgeous horseshoe shaped bay that’s smaller again, and on really big days you can even surf in the bay in San Juan del Sur.
You really are spoilt for choice around Tamraght and Taghazout. There are six different beaches perfect for beginners and more than a dozen other point and reef breaks for intermediates and advanced surfers.
The sheer number of options here means that you can pretty much always find a wave that’s doing what you want. Beach breaks like Banana Beach, Crocodiles, Camel Point and Panoramas (next to Taghazout) are perfect for learning, but also ideal for progressing.
We found that going with the beginners was a great shout because whilst they were all practicing in the white water, we often had the waves out back to ourselves!
Andalucia, Southern Spain
Not many people even think there are waves down there, I certainly didn’t. But word is slowly starting to spread that there are awesome waves in and around Conil all year round.
The main surf season on the Andalucian coast runs from October to April, when you’ll find fairly consistent 3-4 ft waves on huge sandy beaches, with a lot less people than you’ll see in the better known surf spots in the Basque region in the north of Spain.
"The area doesn’t tend to attract advanced surfers at all, but if you ask me that can only be a good thing."
The long, sandy bottomed beaches and slow rolling waves make the area perfect for catching lots of waves and really working on the areas of surfing you want to improve. And even in the winter swell season it’s rarely really big for days on end and the winding nature of the coast means there are lots of options depending on the wind or swell directions.
The area doesn’t tend to attract advanced surfers at all, but if you ask me that can only be a good thing.
Ah Cornwall, not the bikini/boardshort heaven we all dream about, but actually a great option for a surf trip. There are 30 surf beaches listed on Magic Seaweed and loads more that aren’t.
And there are beaches facing every direction, so as long as you’ve got a car and don’t mind exploring it’s rare that there’s absolutely nowhere with a rideable wave. When it’s big, look for shelter.
"It’s rare that there’s absolutely nowhere with a rideable wave."
Big swells wrap right around the coastline, so even some of the east facing beaches will work when it’s big enough. When it’s small, go to an open beach facing the direction of the swell.
If you want to read more of Amy's work, check out the excellent Mellow Waves blog. It's full of useful stuff!.