If you’re in the Northwest and you’re looking to rent surfboards, wetsuits, or other surf gear, knowing if it is the right time to go is important. Surf conditions can change quickly, however using an online surf forecasting site you can be fairly certain if conditions are going to be good for renting. Learning how to read a surf forecast isn’t difficult, but many surf report sites don’t explain how to interpret the information provided. All surf forecasting sites give you the same information. Wind speed and direction, swell direction, swell height, and swell period. The most misunderstood part tends to be the swell period. This is the part that follows the swell height and is measured in seconds.
Example: 6ft at 10 seconds.
The swells period is the part that reads “at 10 seconds”. This means that there is 10 seconds on average in between waves. A long period (or interval) means the waves are traveling faster, which means they have more power, and will become larger when they reach the shore than waves the same height but with a shorter period. This means that the example swell above could end up breaking and be 7 ft tall, while if the period was at 20 seconds it could break and become 10 ft tall with a lot more power behind it.
The most important thing to consider is if the waves are going to be too big. Too big will vary for people of different experience levels, but generally if you are just starting out at surfing look for a day with a swell of 3-4ft to be safe. There really aren’t any deal breakers after knowing the size of the swell, but there are things to look for that are more ideal than others. For instance the wind plays a large role in surf conditions. For beginners little or no wind is the best bet. It’s just one less factor to deal with. If it’s windy it can be harder to get into waves, harder to balance when standing up, there can be more chop on the water, and you can get spray in your face making it harder to see. If there is wind, the best wind is offshore wind(East wind in Oregon), this will hold up the waves longer, giving you a bigger window to get into them.
Lastly the swell direction can affect how much the swell is going to reach certain beaches. Open beaches will pick up every swell direction, but beaches that are protected by a cape, or outcrops of rocks will block swell from certain directions. Take Oswald West State Park for instance. The beach faces slightly south, and is protected by rocks to the north and south. The swell that is going to show up the largest at this beach is a SW swell, and a NW will show the weakest.