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Trying to judge surf forecast sites

I went to one website that appeared to have useful info for an area that's about a 2-hr drive from me.

The site indicated 13-ft waves right now (no, that's definitely NOT what I would ever want to paddle in). I called a private party that manages the beach, and they laughed--it's so quiet that guys (board surfers) are toodling around in the maybe-foot-high waves right at the edge but not actually surfing. I guess the swell direction was just a *little bit off* from being workable for that section of the state's coastline. Sounds like the day I went out last month for a recon visit and mainly paddled a lovely, gorgeous tour along the cliffs to the east. Biggest waves were maybe a foot high, when they occurred. Which was not often and only for a very brief time.

The info I've heard and read agree on what to look for there in terms of swell direction, wind direction and speed, tide height and timing. What other things should I figure into the equation so I do NOT have to take Internet site websites as accurate reflections of what's going on out there?


  • look for actual data.
    Ask locals what to look for in a forecast or data. Local surf shops are usually helpful with that sort of beta, like what direction or what buoy data to check. Swell models like Magic seaweed are never as good as real buoy data combined with local knowledge.
    Not sure on your location but that sounds a lot like Crescent beach on the Olympic peninsula in Wa. state.
    For Crescent beach for example, the swell direction in the north pacific near Vancouver Is has to be north of 278* for the swell to make it in to the beach and when it does, it's about 1/3x the coast forecast. The forecast models seem to just multiply the coast by a fraction and not take the direction into account as well as they should. Even with that knowledge it's always a roll of the dice.
  • NOAA radio and forcasts
    I love the NOAA forcasts. They give me the in-town forcast, the coastal waters out 20 nm, the outer waters forcast, current individual local buoy readings of wave and swell height and windspeed, surf forcast, air temperature, beach water temperature. The coastal forcast is more about windspeed and direction, waves, and swells, where the in-town forcast is about sun and rain and temperature.
    I listen to the NOAA forcast every morning and night, so I know what the wind has been doing as well as what it is forcast to be doing. I know if an onshore wind kicked up this morning, or if it has been sustained for days. Same with an offshore wind. I hear the progression of major fronts coming up from the gulf of Mexico, or down from Canada. They talk about areas of high and low barometric pressure. I hear the progression of tropical depressions, storms, and hurricanes. All kinds of good information. You take the multiple reports from NOAA every day combined with your experience at your regular paddling spots, and pretty soon you put it all together.
    I have learned to prefer this to the half dozen specific surf sites that different people will recommend.
  • surfingmag site (formerly SwellWatch)
    Here is the one I use:

    Click on the "Charts" between "Surf Reports" and "Links" to see a chart for the next week or so and what is predicted.

    The areas along CA we get more detailed reports than just this State-wide display for WA.

    Not perfect, but none I have seen are. it is saying 10-12 feet for all of WA right now.

    Was the place you called in a protected bay or such, where the ocean swell wouldn't necessarily be representative of what they were seeing?
  • Thanks
    -- Last Updated: Sep-23-13 7:58 PM EST --

    That's the place, alright, and "north of 278 deg." is in the range I've heard is good. But I never heard a specific number.

    Gonna prepare a bin with one night of camping gear so if it looks favorable I can toss that in the truck and go. At least I can do one day paddle (surf or no surf), and then decide whether to stay for another day if the next day seems likely to be good.

  • Partway there
    I check NOAA often and try to relate what's going on to what they say, in a general paddling sense.

    The new part is figuring out when the surf is likely to match what would be suitable for me.
  • Yeah, that's what I mean
    The big waves were/are on the exposed west coast of the state (the person I called confirmed that had happened, I guess from talking to other people). Where I want to go is on the northern border, and it is in a small bay.

    Given that those websites seem targeted to board surfers, I'm not surprised that they focus on the area with more predictable and bigger waves.
  • In the Strait ?
    I tried to find a buoy close by but could not find one. The best advice is to find some locals and talk to them about who gives the best reports. In the old days people used to call bars and gas stations for surf reports. I would plan on spending some time there when the off shore west forecast is for small seas and get to know the area, visit often and then you will be able to predict conditions from the outside forecasts. I'm thinking the cost guard must have a local forecast too, possibley on the NOAA site forecasts too.
  • if Juan de Fucca
    -- Last Updated: Sep-23-13 9:23 PM EST --

    If the place is on Juan de Fucca, it would only be ocean swells from certain angles that would enter the straits. And the further in, the less ocean swell would make it. So Neah bay would get some out of the northwest. Challam bay would get even less.

    More likely the waves in that area would be wind waves, not swells, so a factor of the winds.

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