Thursday’s warm weather is bringing wetsuit-clad San Franciscans out to Ocean Beach in droves to take advantage of a rare April surf day.
Weather forecasts predict that the city will reach temperatures of around 80 degrees on Thursday. And in San Francisco, which is not known for having waves in the spring or summer but is world-famous for death-defying winter waves, surfers are taking full advantage of rare conditions that produced picturesque waves doubling the size of the average human on Thursday morning.
Winter storms that originate as far off the coast as Japan are usually what bring big waves to San Francisco. But it’s the warm temperatures that push the wind into the ocean, rounding off the wave’s shape and allowing skilled surfers to slide in between the lip of the crashing wave and its face—otherwise known as getting barreled.
It’s when all these conditions come together that Ocean Beach becomes a world-class surf spot, producing rideable waves that sometimes tower over 20 feet from November to January. But warm weather and winter storms rarely coincide, especially in April.
“Everything’s a gift at this point. By the end of February you start shifting away from expecting [the surf] to be very good,” said Hunter Rich, a NoPa resident who surfs Ocean Beach every day that waves are breaking.
Mark Sponsler, the creator of the forecasting service StormSurf, said that San Franciscans need to squeeze every last drop out of Thursday’s rare conditions because there isn’t any more swell coming.
“If you were in the water today that’s good because after today it’s gone,” Sponsler said. “I’m sitting here working on a forecast right now and I don’t see any storms coming from the northern hemisphere.”
The term endless summer takes on a different meaning for San Francisco surfers, who have to embark on long drives South if they hope to score good waves from April to October. Santa Cruz is a popular destination, but anywhere in between here and there can be a gamble.
Surf shops in San Francisco say they see a noticeable decrease in business during the summer months and surfers say the absence in their life can take a toll.
Jake Tellkamp, Surfline’s social media lead and frequent surfer of the notorious Half Moon Bay surf spot called Mavericks, said that because of high gas prices, he’s considering subletting his Sunset District apartment this summer since going without surf for too long can be damaging to his mental health.
“You go to Santa Cruz during the summer and it’s 70 degrees and you come back here and it’s foggy and the waves are dismal,” Tellkamp said. “The summer here can be really difficult.”
But it’s the long summers that make it easier to appreciate days like Thursday, he said.
“Staying the summer here lights a fire in you so when the waves get big and beautiful you want to maximize every opportunity,” Tellkamp said. “I woke up at first light this morning, and I plan on going surfing during my lunch break today too.”
David Sjostedt can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org