Swell Time Down South
By Dennis McTighe
Things are beginning to wind down in the Central and North Pacific. Storms are becoming less frequent and not as potent as the jet stream starts to shift to the north as most of California begins to dry out after a wetter than normal season over most of the state. In fact, the entire West Coast has received 30 to 50 percent above normal rainfall. So much for the La Nina theory where it’s supposed to be super dry during such an event, at least here in California.
Now it’s the Southern Hemisphere’s kitchen that’s cooking up the big lows way down in the frantic 50’s and roaring 40’s. Over the years these lows have dished out some of our biggest South and southwest swells most common from April through October.
These storms travel generally from west to east for thousands of miles just like they do on our side of the equator. Some of these storms can cover a huge expanse of the ocean, as much as a million square miles on some occasions with winds of 60 mph blowing over that area with 30 to 40 foot seas. Giant swells begin to push out ahead of the strong system looking for a target. About three days later big wave surfers from around the world begin to converge on the island of Papeete in Tahiti at a place called Teahupoo, a thick slab of a wave way hollower and more dangerous than Hawaii’s Pipeline. If you want to see just how heavy the wave is, check out the shot of Laird Hamilton’s historic ride back on Aug. 17, 2000. Next target is the west coast of South America where places like Pico Alto and Chicama in Peru light up a couple or three days after Tahiti. Then it’s onward to Central America and mainland Mexico to spots like Golfito in Costa Rica and Puerto Escondido in Oaxaca start firing on all cylinders. After that the swells begin to assault the western shores of Baja. Next in line is the coast of California.
Here in Laguna when these Southern Hemis start marching in the action focuses on Brooks Street and Rockpile’s Third Reef, where the direction is perfect for wild takeoffs at the point, but not for beginners or faint of heart. Guys like Rod Greenup, Eric “frog” Nelson, and Hans Hagen and a handful of other expert riders rule the outer point. Happy Easter and aloha!
Dennis McTighe worked as a meteorologist and NOAA forecaster. He has kept daily weather records since 1958.