Swell Affective Disorder

It can appear anytime of year…more frequent in the summer but possible anytime. When the surf  stays below waist high for 2 weeks, the symptoms arise. When the longest range forecasts show no hope, a mild melancholy begins. Swell Affective Disorder. Lots of swimming, diving, longboarding, SUPing and going straight on knee-high whitewater just to get wet. Sure thats all fun, but it doesn’t fill the sensory void left without powerful surf.  

The official DSMFD-V logo for Swell Affective Disorder (SAD)
The official DSMFD-V logo for Swell Affective Disorder (SAD).

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Fake Disorders (DSMFD-V) states, “some waveriders experience a serious mood change when the Ocean goes flat. They may stare at the Ocean too much, feel minor melancholy and have difficulty concentrating on or completing tasks. Although, when the swell comes back, they’ll still have difficulty concentrating on or completing tasks.”

Roommates, coworkers and significant others can all sense it. You can be the most cheery positive person around, but when SAD hits, you wear it in your slumped shoulders and sad face. Maybe you catch up on other priorities and hobbies or maybe you just daydream about past sessions… gasping for breath after a big barrel and a bigger thrashing. It’ll come again. But until a large cyclone spins over open Ocean, you’ll be afflicted with Swell Affective Disorder. 

The sufferer goes through different stages: from watching constant surf movies and gazing longingly at the sea to not even wanting to see the flat Ocean or watch perfect waves. It begins with checking the 17 day forecast multiple times a day hoping for a blip and a bump. A weak jet stream and blocking high pressure are frequently the culprits. They are despicable, atmospheric conditions that keep swell from reaching our coast. The anti-purple blob and the root of our melancholy. 

Anti-purple blob. Image: StormSurf
Anti-purple blob. Image: StormSurf

As SAD runs its course, the sufferer maybe only checks the forecast every other day with deeper and deeper sorrow as the storm track remains quiet. Of course, the local conditions are offshore and glassy the entire time its flat. Waves will always come again. It is against the laws of physics that govern the Multiverse for the Ocean to stay flat forever. But in our jaded minds, it feels like the surf came in the long, long ago and will probably never come again. 

Hey jet stream....WAKE UP!
Hey Jet Stream….WAKE UP!

Then finally, a spike on the long range forecast! Relief and excitement wash over. The next two weeks are spent clearing the schedule and watching every isobar on every model…But let’s be real for just a second, if lacking swell is the worst part of your month, you’re still having a pretty good month. Living near the Ocean, healthy and without superfluous drama. But damnit, I wish there were waves!!!



Bodysurfers don’t always need ruler-edged perfection. We like it weird. We often seek the refracting, reflecting, diffracting, bending, warping, sucking-out, wedging, draining, backwash rodeo, double-triple up.  

Recently, the homebreak spent a consistent week getting weird. It wasn’t huge, about chest high on average. It certainly wasn’t perfect. But it was immense fun! Every wave was breaking in knee deep water and chucking open barrels. The crowd was light. Very few surfers gave it a go and most of those that did damaged a board. Each wave warped and sucked sand as it swallowed bodysurfers and unsuspecting inlanders whole. We were out before work and after work everyday for a couple weeks straight. Full of sand and hooting joy.

Bob King getting weird.
Bob King getting weird.

Wedge is one of the world’s ultimate weird waves. The first wave reflects off the jetty and Wedges the next wave into a monster. With any amount of swell in the water, there is an incredible mass of dynamic water moving around that jetty. Sidewaves, peaks, backwash and corner bowls all warping through the hectic impact zone.

Uncle Mel certainly knows his way around the Wedge Weirdness.
Uncle Mel certainly knows his way around the Wedge Weirdness.

The Wind Is Our Friend…Sometimes

“The wind is our friend, anyway, he thought. Then he added, sometimes.” These are the Old Man’s thoughts as he sails home after his epic struggle in Ernest Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea.  He is describing his life as a wise old fisherman and the plight of waveriders.

Wind is the most vital variable in all of surfing and waveriders are excessively particular about its existence. Thousands of miles from our coast, we want maximum, sustained winds…over a large area, for a long time. Locally, a few days later, we desire minimal wind or maybe light wind blowing from a very distinct, offshore direction.  That’s a lot to ask for and it’s the reason we cherish the days with swell and good wind.

The atmospheric condition which shall not be named. The moment it is mentioned, the conditions begin to deteriorate. “Bro, its soooo glassy out here!”…then the wind picks up, onshore.  “Good, the wind hasn’t picked up yet!”…the waves are textured one minute and blown out the next.

It’s a constant struggle. Its the reason we get up at 5am and blow off dinner plans in the evening. We want the best possible wind conditions. Wake up before dawn, groggily drive to your spot in the dark, check the palm fronds. Fist pump…it’s light offshore! But for how long? On average, dawn is the best time of day to surf. Diurnal, prevailing wind patterns guarantee an eventual onshore flow probably 360 days a year. Skateboarding was invented because surfers got frustrated by the afternoon onshores and looked for something to do once the surf blew out.

Dawn glass.
Dawn glass.

Each day, good conditions are fleeting. We dread the coming of the onshores. Sometimes the palm fronds and flags are pointed inland even before the sun rises. Sad face. Sometimes the wind is perfectly calm at dawn and stays that way through the morning. Sheet glass. Sometimes the wind is beautiful offshore at dawn before calming into glass through the morning. The ghastly onshores could bring the dreaded texture at 8am or 1pm…the later the better. Sometimes Santa Anas bring strong, grooming offshores all day.

Evening glassoff.
Evening glassoff.

The evening glassoff isn’t guaranteed but it is always anticipated. Sometimes it never comes. Sometimes the atmosphere teases a glassoff before picking up stronger onshore. Sometimes the first sets of a new swell are greeted in the late evening with perfectly calm winds and orange sunset water.

Sometimes we anticipate a swell for days. Good looking size, period and direction. Only to have it onshore at dawn and howling all day, ripping a solid swell to shreds. Other times, without expectations, a windswell will turn on super fun seemingly out of nowhere. Sometimes it’s perfectly glassy all day but the surf is double over ankle. Sometimes it’s pumping but the devil wind won’t quit. But then there are those situations we dream about and mythologize. Perfect, pure groundswell…and a light offshore breeze for days at time.


Ode to the Ocean


Giant playground. Massive graveyard.
Lore and mythology. Heroes and demons.
Kanaloa, Neptune, Poseidon and Amphitrite
Hydra, The Kraken and Jaws
It’s mystery inspires fear.
The immensity encourages exploration.
The Ocean.
Absorbs red light, leaving behind…
The Deep Blue Sea.

Salt washed from rocks, flows to the sea.
97% of Earth’s water is saltwater.
The Ocean covers 72% of Earth’s surface.
Influencing everything.
Shaping coastlines. Every wave, every tide change.
Eroding land. Moving sediments.
Climate engine.
The Ocean soaks up solar energy and transports it.
Driving the atmosphere.
The Ocean absorbs wind energy.
Fetch makes swell.
Swell makes waves.
The Ocean is the medium, the wind is the force.
Our joy is the result.

Incredible marine biodiversity.
From vibrant reefs to the strange depths.
Astounding creatures abound.
Beautiful, vital and endangered ecosystems.
Demanding our respect and care.
Our family tree goes back billions of years,
to ancestors surviving in the Sea.
Our branch of life left the Ocean. But we’re drawn back.
Deeply connected to the source.