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.
- 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 +|
2) Water Temperature
|Below 50 F||| Below 60 F||| Below 70 F||| Above 70 F||| Above 80 F|
3) Wind: Onshore vs. Offshore (Choppy vs. Clean)
|Onshore (All Day)||| Offshore/Light (At Some Point)|
4) General Wind Wave Direction
|North||| South||| Neutral (Straight)|
5) Swell Period in Seconds
|< 8||| 8 – 11||| 12 +||| 17 +|