2020 in Fernandina Surf

When I imagine a typical day of surf in North Florida it’s probably knee to waist high with 8 to 10 second intervals. 2020 had 224 “knee to waist high” days and 229 days with swell periods ranging from 8 to 11 seconds. So even if only in this one respect 2020 was pretty normal.

Disclaimer: This data is not rigorously precise or quality controlled. This spring I was recovering from a surf related knee injury. During that time frame there were more extrapolations from buoy data than normal. There was also a period of time where the Fernandina Buoy (41112) was offline and Gray’s Reef (41008) and St. Augustine (41117) were used to fill in the gap.

Notable observations and surprises from 2020

  • Extremely mild water temps in March. There were 7 days with water temperatures in the 70’s in March. In 2018 we didn’t see 70 degree water until May. In 2019 the first day of sustained 70 degree water was April 11.
  • A cool start to June. With several North wind events the first half of June featured mostly water temperatures in the 70’s. Combine this with the fact that the water dipped back into the 70’s as early as Sept. 22 and you have almost 40 fewer days of 80 degree + water than in 2019.
  • Windy fall. There were a lot of head high + days in 2020 (51 by my Floridian standards) and half of those fell in September, October, and November. All of the head high + days in September and October featured onshore wind and only 2 of the head high + days in November had sustained periods of offshore wind. There were a lot of big days and days with offshore wind in 2020 they just didn’t line up very often. By my account only 13 of the 51 head high + days had any sustained periods of offshore wind.
  • The Jellyfish were back. This time multiple daily stings in the surf zone occurred along Fernandina’s coast from at least 8/22 through 9/6. The culprit seems to be in the Class Cubozoa and Order Chirodropida containing the box jellyfish or “sea wasp”. I give credit to any of our students who continue to surf after encounters with these. Long sleeve rashguards and leggings are the best deterrent. Most pain relief methods only have limited efficacy.
  • A record Atlantic hurricane season didn’t produce more quality surf locally. The main culprit was wind, both Paulette and Teddy followed excellent tracks to produce great surf but the arrival of the swell coincided with persistent onshore wind. Isaias and Eta produced a day each of the type of iconic surf we hope for, but aside from that if you wanted to surf you had to navigate secondary wind waves cutting across the swell from the storms.

Top 5 days of 2020 – in descending chronological order.

  • 11/12 – When Eta came across the state from the gulf as a tropical storm the midday surf was a drifty, board-breaking mess. Some time in the afternoon the wind clocked around a few degrees from S to SW and it quickly came together as the best quality surf of 2020 hands down.
  • 8/3 – The day of Isaias’ closest pass had some of the largest ridable surf of the year. Similar to the Eta swell it started off early as a nearly unridable mess and shaped up gradually throughout the day until the conditions became nearly as good as it gets here. (There was an hour of the Eta swell where the surf was as good as it gets).
  • 8/1 – Groundswell from Isaias showed up a couple days before the storm and provided some powerful, fun warm up waves for the much larger surf on 8/3.
  • 7/27 – Only 11/12 and 8/3 were obvious “Top 5” days this year. 7/27 was nowhere near the biggest surf of the year but it was the first day of our “Advanced Week” of Summer Camp (The last week of Nassau County summer vacation has had bigger waves than we’re comfortable teaching beginners in almost every year since we’ve been in business). This day offered an excellent summer swell with great winds for our students with a couple years of experience.
  • 4/13 – Similar to Eta in the way a strong South wind clocked to Southwest throughout the day. This was a classic “suck-up” swell ahead of a front and the best day of surf locally during the beach closure.

Honorable Mentions

  • 10/22 – Part of the run of surf from Hurricane Epsilon.
  • 9/23 – The wind finally got a little lighter before the swell from Hurricane Teddy faded out.
  • 9/14 – Part of the run of surf from Hurricane Paulette.
  • 4/7 – A light crowd boated, walked, and paddled in to City of Jacksonville Parks to surf during the beach closures.
  • 1/25 – This morning I saw Dylan Jenkins get a wave so good it made me want to try my knee. Caught two waves and came in, wasn’t quite up to it yet.


1) Wave heights

Flat – Shin | Knee – Waist | Chest – Shoulder | Head +
Jan. 6 12 5 8
Feb. 7 16 4 2
Mar. 5 19 7 0
Apr. 6 17 4 3
May. 2 21 4 4
Jun. 0 28 1 1
Jul. 0 25 6 0
Aug. 3 19 4 5
Sep. 0 18 4 8
Oct. 1 15 8 7
Nov. 0 12 7 11
Dec. 3 22 4 2
2020 33 224 58 51
2019 43 220 64 38
2018 35 188 116 26

2) Water Temperature

Below 50 F | Below 60 F | Below 70 F | Above 70 F | Above 80 F
Jan. 0 12 31 0 0
Feb. 0 16 29 0 0
Mar. 0 6 25 7 0
Apr. 0 0 14 16 0
May. 0 0 0 31 1
Jun. 0 0 0 30 20
Jul. 0 0 0 31 31
Aug. 0 0 0 31 31
Sept. 0 0 0 30 21
Oct. 0 0 0 31 0
Nov. 0 0 7 23 0
Dec. 0 14 31 0 0
2020 0 48 136 230 104
2019 0 51 158 207 145
2018 12 67 166 199 141

3) Wind: Onshore vs. Offshore (Choppy vs. Clean)

Onshore (All Day) | Offshore/Light (At Some Point)
Jan. 12 19
Feb. 14 15
Mar. 14 17
Apr. 6 24
May. 13 18
Jun. 5 25
Jul. 8 23
Aug. 6 25
Sep. 16 14
Oct. 17 14
Nov. 18 12
Dec. 3 28
2020 132 234
2019 158 207
2018 133 232

4) General Wind Wave Direction

North | South | Neutral (Straight)
Jan. 13 14 4
Feb. 13 12 4
Mar. 7 16 8
Apr. 10 15 5
May. 9 17 5
Jun. 7 19 4
Jul. 2 23 6
Aug. 1 29 1
Sep. 13 14 3
Oct. 22 8 1
Nov. 19 6 5
Dec. 19 6 6
2020 135 179 52
2019 157 141 67
2018 119 167 80

5) Swell Period in Seconds

< 8 | 8 – 11 | 12 + | 17 +
Jan. 9 16 6 0
Feb. 5 16 6 2
Mar. 5 19 7 0
Apr. 8 10 12 0
May. 5 17 9 0
Jun. 8 14 8 0
Jul. 5 26 0 0
Aug. 0 28 3 0
Sep. 1 16 13 0
Oct. 10 16 5 0
Nov. 2 27 1 0
Dec. 2 24 5 0
2020 60 229 75 2
2019 93 192 80 0
2018 76 212 76 3

November Surf League Dry Day

Part 1-A) Mental Representations – Excellent Surfers in Waves like Ours

As the site for Surfing’s debut as an Olympic event in Summer 2021 you may be surprised how much Japan has in common with Florida. The most consistent surf zone in Japan is the East Coast and their best surf is created by typhoons just as our best surf is due to tropical storms or hurricanes. Below you will find 3 videos of Japan’s top surfers warming up for the Japan Open in waves similar to our own.

Part 1-B) Additonal viewing (Extra Credit):
2020 Japan Open Final Day – Womens Highlights
2020 Japan Open Final Day – Mens Highlights

Part 2) Homework
(Submit via email anytime before Friday’s practice or as a typed or handwritten page at Friday’s practice.)

2-A) Tell us your favorite surfer and write one sentence why. (Feel free to come up with someone on your own or choose someone from the videos above or our list of surfers below).

2-B) Using Youtube or Instagram find a video of your favorite surfer that shows them surfing. Tell us the name of the video if using Youtube or the Instagram handle and date the video was posted if using Instagram.

2-C) In the video you have selected tell us the time in minutes and seconds (format mm:ss example 00:11, 02:15) of your favorite wave or maneuver and write one sentence why.

Surf Asylum’s Favorite Surfers Shortlist
Descriptions and video links below list. (You are not required to watch all of the videos in the links below but feel free to use the videos for Part 2-C).

Women Men
Courtney Conlogue Brett Barley
Sally Fitzgibbons Ethan Ewing
Stephanie Gilmore Italo Ferreira
Caroline Marks John John Florence
Carissa Moore Evan Geiselman
Isabella Nichols Mateus Herdy
Rachel Presti Kanoa Igarashi
Caity Simmers Riaru Ito
Amuro Tsuzuki Hiroto Ohhara
Tyler Wright Chauncey Robinson

Brett Barley A dedicated East Coast surfer who specializes in barrel riding and airs. Video.

Courtney Conlogue One of the strongest and most creative surfers on the Womens World Tour. Video 1. Video 2.

Ethan EwingOne of the smoothest styles and most functional stances in modern surfing. Video.

Italo Ferreira 2019 World Champion and one of the most consistent surfers in the air in the world. Video.

Sally Fitzgibbons One of the hardest working surfers on the Womens World Tour. Sally is also a great runner and all around athlete. Video 1. Video 2.

John John Florence World Champion surfer who credits his surfing success to the community on the North Shore of Oahu and their love and respect for the ocean. Video.

Stephanie Gilmore Considered one of the most stylish surfers of our time. Video.

Evan Geiselman An excellent Florida surfer from New Smyrna Beach. Video.

Mateus Herdy A young Brazilian surfer who is fast and light on his feet. Video.

Kanoa Igarashi Raised in Huntington Beach but representing Japan in the 2021 Olympics. Kanoa is a hardworking competitive surfer. Video.

Riaru Ito A young Japanese surfer who is light on his feet. Similar to Brett Barley he is confident in the air and in the tube. Video.

Caroline Marks Young Floridian Womens World Tour surfer known for powerful backhand surfing. Video.

Carissa Moore One of the most powerful surfers on the Womens World Tour. Video.

Isabella Nichols An athletic soccer player and surfer with great technique. Video 1.Video 2.

Hiroto Ohhara Small in stature but lightning fast and great in the air. Winner of the 2015 US Open of Surfing. Video.

Rachel Presti A dedicated Florida surfer who excelled in ESA competition and has gone on to compete on the WSL Qualifying Series in hopes of making it on to the World Tour. Video.

Chauncey Robinson A Florida surfer from Sebastian Inlet who has had great results on the WSL Junior Tour. Video.

Caity Simmers One of the best young surfers out of California right now. Video.

Amuro Tsuzuki A powerful Japanese surfer who has been successful on both the WSL Womens Qualifying Series and Pro Junior Tour. Video.

Tyler Wright One of Australia’s best surfers. She recently made a successful comeback from an almost year long battle with complications from a virus. Video.

Surf League Inspiration

1) What’s possible on midlength surfboards

Beau Young and Leah Dawson prove that midlengths which aren’t quite longboards and aren’t quite shortboards can be ridden with radical, playful style.

2) Solid fundamentals and refined technique

Tyler Wright and Matt Banting exhibit near flawless surfing technique in relatable sized surf. We believe that with dedication you all can surf like anything you see.

3) Pros in Florida waves

In the winters of 2018 and 2019 some of the worlds best surfers traveled to compete at Sebastian Inlet in Melbourne, FL. Surf Asylum was there and we created these videos to show the basic elements of intermediate and advanced surfing. Mirrored for Goofy or Regular.

Advanced Week 2020 Homework

Homework: Featured below are links to 6 videos representing different styles of surfing. Watch each video, choose your favorite and write one paragraph why. Due date Wednesday July 29, typed or handwritten.

1) Late Morning –

2) Involvement Test –

3) Caroline Marks –

4) Coffee Break Session –

5) Peanut Butter –

6) Funfetti at the Jetty –

Extra Credit: Watch the 4 additional videos below. Choose your favorite and write one paragraph why. Due date Wednesday July 29, typed or handwritten.

1) Yours Truly, Mateus Herdy –

2) Ladybirds –

3) Mikey February’s Quiver –

4) Paige Alms’ Barrel at Jaws –

Recommended Reading: John John Florence’s ideas about surfing align very closely with Surf Asylum’s core values in his piece below:

“The Ocean is Everything”

Bring your paragraph (and optional extra credit paragraph) with you on a piece of paper, printed or handwritten, by Wednesday (July 29) of Advanced Week.

2019 in Fernandina Surf

Aside from the slow movement of the extremely powerful Hurricane Dorian, 2019 was a fairly typical North Florida year. The water never dipped below 50 F, there wasn’t a July hurricane, and there were slightly more days of North wind than South.

Disclaimer: This data is still subject to personal bias and small errors here and there. It’s become the story I tell myself about the year from the perspective of a surf instructor working with surfers of all ages and ability levels as opposed to an intermediate or advanced surf enthusiast.

Notable observations and surprises from 2019

  • During February there were no swell periods of 12 seconds or longer. Winter is usually a time where coastal storms in New England can move out from behind Cape Hatteras into the open Atlantic and produce swells of at least 15 seconds.
  • In 2018 there were 3 days with 17+ second swell periods. In 2019 there were none. The best days of surf from Dorian and Humberto featured swell periods of only 10 seconds. On a related note 2019 recorded 17 more days (93 total) of short period wind swell.
  • There were almost 40 (38) head high+ days in 2019. Of those 38 days, 15 of them had offshore winds. This year more than half of the head high+ days had strong onshore winds. Between Hurricanes Dorian and Humberto September accounted for 12 head high+ days, 5 offshore and 7 onshore.
  • Late August (8/21 – 8/25) featured a severe jellyfish outbreak. These have become a regular occurrence for us in late August or early September. The tides, direction of wind and waves, and location North or South along the beach all affect your likelihood of being stung. Murky water that has been flushed out of the marshes or intercoastal waterway seems to contain the highest densities of jellyfish this time of year.
  • 2019 was a year of extremes. There were more flat days, more waist high or below days, and more head high and over days.  As many head high+ days as 2019 produced there were none in May, June, or July.

Top 5 days of 2019 – in descending chronological order.

  • 12/23 – Low pressure developed right off the coast of Florida and after two days of onshore winds everything came together for a full day of sizable, clean surf. Two more days of sizable, windy surf followed.
  • 11/18 – Broad low pressure set-up far enough South and offshore to be fully positioned in Florida’s swell window. The waves were good across the entire state this day. At 15 seconds this was the longest period “Top 5 Day” of 2019.
  • 9/17 – The clean-up day of the Humberto swell. Hurricane Humberto combined with a long fetch of NE wind to give us nearly a full day of waves when the wind finally went offshore.
  • 9/5 – The clean-up from the passage of Hurricane Dorian. The swell dropped quickly this day but as far as form goes sunrise revealed some of the most classic waves of the year.
  • 3/21 – For 2 years in a row March has turned out a “Top 5 Day” of surf. A fun morning with a light crowd and a powerful 10 second swell. Every “Top 5 Day” except for 11/18 featured a 10 second swell period.

Honorable Mentions

  • 11/15 – Part of the run of surf leading up to 11/18.
  • 9/23 – The best day locally from the Hurricane Jerry swell.
  • 9/16 – The 2nd best day of the Humberto swell.
  • 9/4 – The day Hurricane Dorian made it’s closest pass to the Florida coast. The biggest surf of the year.
  • 4/19 – The wind went from strong South to Southwest by evening. At 8 seconds this was the shortest period excellent surf of 2019.
  • 2/20 – This was the standout day in February.
  • 1/24 – The second swell of 2019 but the first that really cooperated locally.
    Bailey Riggan (pictured below, Photo Credit: Jensen Bell) was ripping.


1) Wave heights

Flat – Shin | Knee – Waist | Chest – Shoulder | Head +
Jan. 11 14 5 1
Feb. 5 17 4 2
Mar. 5 19 4 3
Apr. 4 19 4 3
May. 0 28 3 0
Jun. 5 25 0 0
Jul. 0 27 4 0
Aug. 2 23 5 1
Sep. 0 10 8 12
Oct. 3 11 12 5
Nov. 1 16 9 4
Dec. 7 11 6 7
2019 43 220 64 38
2018 35 188 116 26

2) Water Temperature

Below 50 F | Below 60 F | Below 70 F | Above 70 F | Above 80 F
Jan. 0 21 31 0 0
Feb. 0 20 28 0 0
Mar. 0 2 31 0 0
Apr. 0 0 19 11 0
May. 0 0 0 31 11
Jun. 0 0 0 30 30
Jul. 0 0 0 31 30
Aug. 0 0 0 31 31
Sept. 0 0 0 30 30
Oct. 0 0 0 31 12
Nov. 0 0 18 12 0
Dec. 0 8 31 0 0
2019 0 51 158 207 145
2018 12 67 166 199 141

3) Wind: Onshore vs. Offshore (Choppy vs. Clean)

Onshore (All Day) | Offshore/Light (At Some Point)
Jan. 14 17
Feb. 15 13
Mar. 14 17
Apr. 15 15
May. 11 20
Jun. 11 19
Jul. 7 24
Aug. 7 24
Sep. 16 14
Oct. 18 13
Nov. 14 16
Dec. 16 15
2019 158 207
2018 133 232

4) General Wind Wave Direction

North | South | Neutral (Straight)
Jan. 18 8 5
Feb. 10 7 11
Mar. 16 10 5
Apr. 10 16 4
May. 3 19 9
Jun. 5 18 7
Jul. 9 17 5
Aug. 10 16 5
Sep. 21 7 2
Oct. 15 12 4
Nov. 22 3 5
Dec. 18 8 5
2019 157 141 67
2018 119 167 80

5) Swell Period in Seconds

< 8 | 8 – 11 | 12 + | 17 +
Jan. 13 12 6 0
Feb. 7 21 0 0
Mar. 11 18 2 0
Apr. 10 17 3 0
May. 11 10 10 0
Jun. 8 20 2 0
Jul. 4 20 7 0
Aug. 5 15 11 0
Sep. 2 15 13 0
Oct. 7 9 15 0
Nov. 7 14 9 0
Dec. 8 21 2 0
2019 93 192 80 0
2018 76 212 76 3

2018 in Fernandina Surf

In order improve our season planning and make better scheduling decisions Surf Asylum kept a wave log for the entirety of 2018. We thought we’d share some of our findings and data here. Disclaimer: This data is subject to personal bias and small errors here and there.

Notable observations and surprises from 2018

  • Our winter water got as cold is it gets, for 12 days in January the water temp was below 50 F. Nearshore water temps as low as 47 F were observed 1/19, and 1/20
  • July was extremely consistent. In addition to fairly steady mid-period ESE trade swell a decent North angled swell from Hurricane Chris peaked on 7/10. While there were 5 near flat days in June, July had something ridable everyday. The most challenging aspect of surfing in July was finding somewhere that broke at high tide, the swell was there.
  • In 2018, there were slightly more days of South short period wind swell than North short period wind swell. South wind may have been the story of 2018
  • More than half (14 out of 26) the head high + days of surf had offshore winds.
  • December had more near flat days than June.

Top 5 days of 2018 – in descending chronological order.

  • 11/24 – A lot of fetch and strong wind passed by from South to North just off the Coast of Florida and though the day started out a bit unruly it managed to clean up by mid morning.
  • 9/16 – Swells from Helene and Isaac started to pulse a few days after the original swell from Florence providing for nearly a full day of solid surf for beaches that could handle side-offshore South wind.
  • 9/13 – The peak of the Florence swell. This day was really mixed up but the largest surf of the year came through the morning. Visiting pros put on a show.
  • 4/24 – This day was a slightly smaller but cleaner and more organized version of 11/24 with a very similar source.
  • 3/5 – Strong swell from the North Atlantic hit the South Hatteras buoy (41002) the day before. The set waves this day were thick. Another day that was pretty unruly first thing in the morning.

Honorable Mentions

  • 10/11 – South “suck-up” windswell ahead of front with well timed morning offshores. Not huge but hollow.
  • 3/28 – A couple heavy ones before dark. The one that got away spit down the beach right before I paddled out.


1) Wave heights

Flat – Shin | Knee – Waist | Chest – Shoulder | Head +
Jan. 1 15 12 3
Feb. 0 12 15 0
Mar. 5 19 7 5
Apr. 3 12 12 3
May. 0 17 12 2
Jun. 5 25 0 0
Jul. 0 23 8 0
Aug. 6 22 3 0
Sep. 0 12 14 4
Oct. 2 13 13 3
Nov. 3 10 13 4
Dec. 10 13 6 2
2018 35 188 116 26

2) Water Temperature

Below 50 F | Below 60 F | Below 70 F | Above 70 F | Above 80 F
Jan. 12 31 31 0 0
Feb. 0 19 28 0 0
Mar. 0 2 31 0 0
Apr. 0 0 30 0 0
May. 0 0 1 30 0
Jun. 0 0 0 30 26
Jul. 0 0 0 31 31
Aug. 0 0 0 31 30
Sept. 0 0 0 30 30
Oct. 0 0 0 31 22
Nov. 0 0 15 15 0
Dec. 0 15 31 0 0
2018 12 67 166 199 141

3) Wind: Onshore vs. Offshore (Choppy vs. Clean)

Onshore (All Day) | Offshore/Light (At Some Point)
Jan. 19 12
Feb. 14 14
Mar. 7 24
Apr. 16 14
May. 22 9
Jun. 2 28
Jul. 10 21
Aug. 4 26
Sep. 13 17
Oct. 13 18
Nov. 9 21
Dec. 4 27
2018 133 232

4) General Wind Wave Direction

North | South | Neutral (Straight)
Jan. 20 5 6
Feb. 8 8 12
Mar. 10 12 9
Apr. 12 12 6
May. 3 25 3
Jun. 2 21 8
Jul. 6 21 4
Aug. 4 26 1
Sep. 6 10 14
Oct. 13 11 7
Nov. 20 8 2
Dec. 15 8 8
2018 119 167 80

5) Swell Period in Seconds

< 8 | 8 – 11 | 12 + | 17 +
2018 76 212 76 3
Jan. 8 21 2 0
Feb. 3 21 4 0
Mar. 6 4 20 2
Apr. 8 21 1 0
May. 10 21 0 0
Jun. 3 25 2 0
Jul. 0 29 2 0
Aug. 11 11 9 0
Sep. 4 9 17 1
Oct. 8 9 14 0
Nov. 7 20 3 0
Dec. 8 21 2 0
2018 76 212 76 3

Women of Waves 2016

Is there anything more delightful than time dedicated to celebrating women and their relationship with the sea? (If you happen to be a man, bare with me here, please) That is exactly what Women of the Waves, held annually in Cocoa Beach, is all about. Female surfers of all ages and all skill levels are invited to join together in Cocoa Beach for a weekend of community, friendship and sharing in the joy that is a life spent in the sea. Naturally, it is one of my favorite surf events of the year!

Despite having to be rescheduled once (Thank you Hurricane Matthew) and a somewhat dismal forecast for the new dates, this year’s event was just as special as years past. A less crowded event simply meant an even more intimate experience than usual and the opportunity to spend lots of time catching up with old friends. I dearly missed many of the friends who couldn’t make it this year, but was thankful for the chance to meet new ones and expand my growing network of surf sisters.

After a ridiculously fun surf session at home Friday morning, I jumped in the car and hit the road for the longest three hours of my life. Surf fatigue and driving are not friendly with each other! I did eventually get there, meeting up with my friend and weekend roommate Allison, just in time to head to the Friday night surf movie. This year we were treated to the Sisterhood of Surfing by Dr. Diana Wehrell-Grabowski, a film that captured the essence of what it means to women when they get to share waves with other women, completely comfortable, without competition, communing with each other and the ocean. The film heavily featured women from around the state of Florida (with a pit stop in Sayulita, Mexico) and the audience cheered and clapped whenever a familiar face graced the screen.

We awoke Saturday morning to the glaring reality of that dismal forecast and could see the tree tops blowing from our hotel room, but we were here and would not be kept from the highlight of the weekend, the surfing social. This is usually a time to jump in the water with about a hundred of your closest surfing girlfriends and trade as many stories as waves. Mother Nature decided to mix it up this year by throwing hard NE winds across the surface of the Atlantic, creating choppy surf conditions and a swift drift that swept almost everyone down the beach. I opted out of the drift session and was thankful that I did as I ended up making a couple new friends who also chose to relax on the sand. Mid morning someone suggested we might check out Jetty Park, a spot just north that had a jetty and might block some of the wind. The waves were smaller, but much cleaner and Allison and I, our new friend Ana, and a handful of others ended up having a fun surf session.

When the afternoon came around and Ana suggested lunch with some other surf sisters at Surfinista, Allison and I jumped at the opportunity. Surfinista is a funky, surf themed place in downtown Cocoa Beach with a menu filled with juices, smoothies, sandwiches and the adored acai bowl and walls filled with surf art. They also have a little retail space with boards by Tom Neilson and Stu Sharpe on display. We had a great time sharing stories of surfing and traveling and finding out what each others different interest were (three out of six have had very good luck growing eggplant!). We followed lunch with a quick stroll around downtown and a bit of shopping before heading back to get ready for the Saturday night potluck.

This year’s potluck was at Manatee Sanctuary Park, overlooking the sunset on the Banana River, with plenty of oohs and aahs to go around. The tables overflowed with an assortment of dishes and music from local band, The Aquanuts, filled the air. The raffle and silent auction are always a hit, with participants anxiously clutching their tickets and waiting to hear themselves announced a winner. At this point in the weekend, we’re all old friends, laughing and story telling the night away. Smartphones were pulled out and selfies galore were snapped to commemorate the fun of the evening. With stars twinkling overhead, plans are made for one last surf the next morning. The wind was still not cooperating, so Jetty Park was the call.

A perceived extra hour of sleep (thank you time change!) was more than welcome after a full weekend and allowed Allison and I to make the agreed upon 8:00 a.m. meet up time for the surf. Unfortunately the weather would not listen to our pleas for light winds and cleaner conditions. If anything, she persisted in blowing harder than the previous day, adding more chop to an already tumultuous ocean. It was our last day and we were all together, so in we plunged and despite the conditions, marveled in the beauty of the sea and the powers that be that brought us to gather, in celebration of ourselves and the sea.

My deepest thanks to Melody De Carlo and Sharon Wolfe Cranston for their commitment to this event and for the work they put in each year to provide us with an opportunity to come together in the name of women’s surfing. Thank you to Dr. Diana Wehrell-Grabowski for her work on the Sisterhood of Surfing and sharing it with us and to Teri McCutchen for the beautiful artwork for this year’s event. If you are a sponsor or donor to this event, thank you too! Sandy Lee, Ana Joly, Meredith Hackwith-Edwards, Judy Taylor-Gorman and Patricia ‘Sissy’ Dittrick, it was a pleasure to spend extra time with you this weekend. Allison, thank you so much for being my roomie, an all around awesome person, and hanging with me all weekend!

Frustrating Fall

Often when we have big surf whipped up by strong local winds I tell people there are a lot of waves, just not a lot of good waves. The same could be said about Fall 2016 in Northeast Florida. If you happened to inquire about surf lessons this fall and we told you that “there’s a lot of wind in the forecast” and that conditions would not be fun, safe, or conducive for learning during your stay you weren’t alone. In fact, with a very uncertain forecast for Hurricane Hermine we cancelled all of our Labor Day weekend surf lessons. Before that we had the swell from Hurricane Gaston arrive simultaneously with persistent onshore wind that created less than optimal surface conditions. We had at least twice as many good teaching days last fall.

The forecast track for Hurricane Matthew was much more reliable but the storm was almost always going to come in too close to produce much in the way of good surf. We at Surf Asylum evacuated Amelia Island on Wednesday to avoid traffic in anticipation of Matthew’s approaching Amelia Island Friday night. The storm needed to be several hundred miles further out to sea to create anything like the surf we saw from last year’s Hurricane Joaquin. If there is a silver lining to this season it’s that even with the constant onshore winds and the close passage of Hurricane Matthew our surfing sandbars have remained remarkably similar and intact. When the swell arrived from Hurricane Nicole, another unfortunate mix of windswell and groundswell similar to Gaston, we were still surfing the same spots at the same tides as we were before Matthew’s 20 ft. seas took out sections of both our piers.

It has even been a struggle to schedule surfs with our more advanced students who have been surfing for a year or more. If there was a succinct way for Betsy to describe the 2016 Sisters of the Sea Surf Classic it would be “challenging.” Two of our Fall 2016 First Coast District – Eastern Surfing Association contests were also held in the large choppy surf that has come to typify this season. We start Surf League early because we know the Northeast winds are coming but they usually run on weekly cycles with a few days of calm or offshore winds in between. This fall it feels like onshore winds have been blowing for weeks on end. If you’ve been surfing for a year and you’re fit and confident you can paddle out in these conditions. However, you’ll be learning a lot more about surviving than surfing as you can expect your wave counts to be quite low. It takes about 3 years of being fairly committed to the sport before you start catching many waves in choppy wind swell. I often find myself having to wait anywhere from five to fifteen minutes for a good wave in these conditions.

Fall is still the time when you are most likely to get surfing conditions that match the conventional idea of “good.” On one of the very few decent days this fall a musician from Cape Town (who had been living in Nashville, TN for two years and was in town performing at the Ritz Carlton) paddled up to me and asked “Is Florida always this good!” I had to be honest, by South Africa’s standards the surf in Florida isn’t always this good. At this late juncture we’re looking at maybe two magic days which were glassy but a bit too powerful and steep for learning. During our best fall seasons we get at least a week’s worth of such days. If you’re dedicated to improving your surfing you have to supplement your water time with the windier more chaotic days. If you’re new to the sport our best advice is to take advantage of every available summer morning (before the sea breeze picks up) to build up the paddling strength, endurance, and quickness to your feet required to enjoy the Fernandina Fall surf.

Betsy gets a… shortboard?!

2016 is my ten year ‘Surfaversary’. What is a surfaverasary? Well it’s when you celebrate your relationship with surfing! I even gave myself a surfaversary present. I’ve spent my first decade pretty dedicated to longboarding, telling people who harass me about getting on a shorter board that I’ll move to a smaller board when I master my log. Then I follow that by explaining that I don’t think I’ll ever do such a thing as there is too much to learn and even when you think you have a decent grasp on it, the creativity you can bring into logging never ends. From lines to footwork, where you can go with your longboarding is limitless. Plus, I could talk all day about how beautiful, graceful, and timeless I think logging is.

All of that being said, three things happened over the last year that put a couple of fissures in my rock solid devotion to logging. The first was having some local girls come to Surf Camp, get super stoked on surfing and (mainly due to their stature and definitely NOT because longboarding isn’t the coolest thing around) promptly start riding short boards. Technically I suppose they’re mostly funshapes and midlengths, but still they’re all at least two feet shorter than anything I’ve ever tried to ride. Striving to be the best coach I can be, I wanted to be able to relate better to these girls and their experience in the water. It was easy to talk with them about looking for the peak and determining wave direction, but I couldn’t relate to their struggles with simply paddling into the wave. I would try to paddle with them in an attempt to set a paddling pace, but two strokes on my 9’2 and I was five yards ahead of them on their smaller boards. I started to paddle out on our 7 ft camp board in order to be closer in board size to the girls. And then, to my surprise, I started to have fun on it.

The second thing came about from that Surfaversary gift to surf with the lovely Leah Dawson in Puerto Rico. Leah spent most of her time on a singlefin shortboard, drawing the most beautiful lines and showing me that shortboarding doesn’t have to comply with what the surf media tells us it is. I thought of shortboarding as fast, tight turns with lots of ugly pumping in between sections. Leah showed me that with the right equipment, you can draw really smooth lines on shortboards and get just as creative with your surfing as you can on a longboard. As inspired as I was by Leah on her shortie, I came home and ordered a new, but very traditional longboard, still focused on improving my logging. I’m stoked on my new log, but I couldn’t help but keep thinking about the potential of a smaller board and all the days I could surf that aren’t conducive to longboarding (because we all know that I don’t surf enough already, right?!)

The third and final breakthrough was meeting Justin Laird. I met Justin, of Laird Surf Craft, in the water last year, right around the time that Surf Asylum Surf Camp decided to set up at Log Cabin, basically taking over the spot closest to his house (and shaping room). He was kind enough to let me try one of his displacement hull boards one time which piqued my curiosity about his shaping. I’d never ridden a hull and didn’t appreciate the differences between his longboard and mine until I paddled for a perfect wave, spun out on the take off and lost the board. What was this hull and how did it manage to toss me off on a glassy thigh-high peeler? Justin gave me a couple of pointers and I managed to hang on to a couple of speedy lines, but was more than happy to hand off the board, still trying to wrap my mind around how a board could be SO different than anything I’d ever ridden. Since that day we’ve always taken a few minutes to chat about waves and boards when we see each other out. I knew Justin was making his own boards and was really enthusiastic about the hulls, but recently I had noticed him and some other local surfers on other less traditional shapes, mainly fishes and weird, short, stubby looking things that he was making. That’s when it crossed my mind that Justin might be the guy to make my first shortboard. So I asked him if he was interested. Five minutes later we had a design plan.

A week later I was in his shaping bay, watching him bring my 6’6 Wayne Lynch inspired singlefin (You didn’t think I was going to get one of those potato chip thrusters did you?) to life. He told me before we got started that he believed in positive energy and vibrations and that he felt really good when he was cutting the initial outline of the board. I told him I believed in the same types of things  and watched, mesmerized, as Justin took a barely recognizable chunk of foam and turned it into a functional piece of art. It’s apparent in each stroke of the planer and brush of the sandpaper that Justin is not only really talented, but genuinely loves shaping. He had a smile on his face the whole time, pleased with the harmony between his movements and the resulting shape of the foam. I had a smile on mine reveling in how cool it is when being in the right place with the right people and being open to new experiences can bring about great things.

Justin’s gonna put a cool acid splash on the bottom and the board should be ready for the water soon. Stay tuned for more as I try to chronicle my attempts at learning to ride a (MUCH) smaller board. Deepest thanks to my students and Leah Dawson for the inspiration, to Justin for being genuinely excited to make this board and putting some heart and soul into it, and last, but never least to David for always encouraging and supporting me, wherever surfing take us.