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Laguna Beach

 Volume 13, Issue 31  |  April 16, 2021


Dennis’ Tidbits

By DENNIS McTIGHE

April 6, 2021

The cycle of swells

Dennis 5Local ocean temps have nudged up a bit as of late reaching 61 degrees over the weekend, the first time since the last week of last November that it’s cleared the 60 barrier.

We’re starting to see some pulses of swell energy from the Southern Hemisphere as the storm belt down there known as the Roaring 40s is starting to pop out some pretty decent low-pressure systems. From April or May until October, the other hemisphere is responsible for at least 60 percent of our surf here in our neck of the woods. That’s the most active zone for these big, long-period swells on our shores, but every month of the year has seen a big swell from way down there. 

Some of these mammoth waves travel up to 7,000 miles or more to reach our south-facing beaches taking a week to ten days to get here. With their winter coming on, the storms get stronger as the weeks tick on. A few of these deep lows have been known to hold it together long enough to circle the globe. Since they don’t really come in contact with any major land mass, some of these lows travel straight to the east the whole time.

A storm of this kind will generate large swells to several continents during its long journey. As the storm passes to the south of Australia, a large swell will grace the western and southern shores of that continent and a couple of days later New Zealand will get in on the action. 

After New Zealand, the window of opportunity opens wide as these waves will travel to most of the west coast of South America, then onward to Central America, then the west coast of Mainland Mexico, then onward to the entire Pacific West Coast on the more powerful swells. 

On occasion, these waves will even reach the west coast of Canada and even parts of Alaska, believe it or not! All from the same storm, mind you! That’s a distance of nearly 10,000 miles! Because there’s such a huge expanse of water to nourish these swells, some of these powerful swells have been known to last seven, eight, even nine days around here. Our more localized Baja swells normally have a life expectancy of two to three days because the swell window is so much smaller, and the waves arrive at 10 to 11-second intervals rather than the long-period thicker waves. 

Those thicker waves can break at intervals of 20 seconds simply because they’re traveling at four to five times the distance than Mexican hurricane swells.

A few days later the same intense low is plowing past the tip of South America as places like Tierra del Fuego and the Falkland Islands are lighting up with double to triple overhead waves exploding on the reefs and point breaks way down there. Once the low passes south of South America, its swells begin to affect some of the Leeward Islands in the far Eastern Caribbean. Several days later, the cyclone is hundreds of miles south of Capetown, South Africa – as 40 ft. bombs detonate the outer reefs of Capetown. 

Two days later, epic sets are marching in at the world-famous Jeffrey’s Bay as 12 ft. waves offer an incredible ride up to one mile if you can get through Supertubes and Impossibles – which is rarely pulled off by even the top pros, but when it does happen, it’s a major event. A few days later the storm has kept it going during its long journey and is right back where it was three weeks ago to begin the process all over again! Whew! What a ride! 

See y’all on Friday, ALOHA!

 

Shaena Stabler is the Owner, Publisher & Editor.

Dianne Russell is our Associate Editor & Writer.

Michael Sterling is our Webmaster & Designer.

Mary Hurlbut and Scott Brashier are our photographers.

Alexis Amaradio, Dennis McTighe, Diane Armitage, Maggi Henrikson, Sara Hall, Stacia Stabler and Suzie Harrison are our writers and/or columnists.

In Memoriam - Stu Saffer and Barbara Diamond.

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