Look at that one!!! - Scardy at Cloudbreak (pic: Shields)

5 tips for chasing swells

07th Nov 2018

It takes a certain type of person to paddle into mountain-sized waves, heck, it takes a certain type of person to even paddle out. David Scard is no stranger to big waves and made a name for himself at getting really good at seeking out mega swells all over the world. He started a business known as Global Surf Guides that would take people on a guided surfari to the places you REALLY wanted to surf at its best. Now Scardy gives us some tips on chasing swells and what to look out for. 

Having spent the best part of a decade chasing swells all over the world, I learnt that there are some essential pieces of planning and preparation that goes into a strike mission. Most of the time, these swells can simply come out of nowhere. It is very hard to track a swell over more than 2 or 3 weeks. So much can go wrong in that time which can change the outcome of that swell. So when its on, its on! 

Here are the most important tips when planning a strike mission: 

1) Equipment

Arguably the most important thing is having your equipment ready to go. You won’t have time to order boards, ponder on the design or dimensions. Your equipment should literally be ready to go, packed away in a ‘strike mission’ boardbag complete with leggies, wax, life jacket and anything else that goes into making you confident with your equipment. 

Personally, I almost always had an 8ft board bag packed with 4 boards from my standard 6’0” to my 7’10” gun. Some guys brought bigger boards with me over the years. I actually felt under-gunned a few times on some of the swells. 

2) Sacrifice

For the surfers out there who love their annual surf trip or two, these types of strike missions can really affect the planning and budgeting for that.

They often come at the demise of your annually pre-booked surf charter with the boys (or girls) or the family holiday to the Maldives or Fiji. However, it can be a good trade off for the missus, if you are away for a shorter duration than your standard planned surf trip AND you are almost guaranteed epic surf! 

3) Being able to deal with let down

There are several places around the world that have known conditions to make it light up. Places like Nias, G-Land and Cloudbreak are often broadcast all over surf media websites and social media with incredible hype. Photographers, filmers and surfers scramble for seats on planes and beds in surf camps just to get a piece of the action. 

The hype is more often than not, over-cooked but the excitement is great to be part of. 

I always used to advise people to remain realistic with their expectations. Understand that windows of opportunity are limited when chasing waves and if you don’t get it perfect, don’t let it get you down. The beauty of the ocean is that there will always be another swell. 

4) Understand how to read the charts

To get your chosen wave, the one you REALLY want to get at its best, you need things to go your way. 

Ideally, you can start booking your Indo strike around 5 days out. This is when the probability of the forecast is very much in your favour for what the expected swell height will be. If it is possible to leave it until the storm hits real time, 00 hours, this is no longer a forecast as the storm is generating swell but swell that is going to hit in 3 days or less! This gives you 3 days to book and travel to your destination. As you can imagine, a lot of places in Indo take two days to reach, so making the call on the forecast is often unavoidable. 

For the Pacific, the time from REAL time to expected swell arrival is even less, often 2 days. The storms are closer and generally the swell more powerful. So we do rely heavily on the weather models to make the call, comparing different models and usually, if it is a big powerful storm, the models will match quiet closely.

East Coast to West Cost in Australia is also like night and day when it comes to forecasting. The West is quiet reliable and easy to forecast as the storms are heading toward the coast. As for the East Coast, it is much trickier. Cyclones, East Coast Lows, Long Range East Swells and South Swells provide our gold. These systems have much more variables and a lot of the time can shift, straighten and weaken in a day!

Depending how keen you are, it’s a good idea to document your swells. Capture the maps and digits (height, period and degrees) – this way you can compare future swells at your favourite strike zone. Warning – it can become addictive !!

5) Train & Be capable

Just like being ready with your equipment, you need to be ready with your mind and body. 

Paddling into waves sometimes 3 or 4 times bigger than you are normally surfing at home, is not for everyone and I strongly advise training for when these swells arrive. 

Big wave surfing is a sport within itself and there is now a big wave world tour, where the guys train almost everyday in fitness, breath holding and most importantly, mind control. 

If you aren’t capable of being held down for longer than normal, then don’t take the risk.

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