June 23, 2024
surfing santa ana winds

Surfing Santa Ana Winds Explained

California is the Golden State. Surfing here is a classic experience. However, surfing Santa Ana winds in San Diego or Southern California in general is a very special experience. We are lucky enough to be able to surf Santa Ana winds in San Diego!

In this post, learn about surfing Santa Ana winds, why they are called Santa Ana winds, and what causes Santa Ana winds. If you haven’t experienced surfing Santa Anas yet, you’ll want to after reading.

What Causes Santa Ana Winds?

To begin, Santa Ana winds are often characterized by a blustery, warm, and dry wind. Secondly, this wind blows out of the desert valleys and East towards the coastline. Yes, Santa Ana winds are normally hot, but the cause of Santa Ana winds starts with cold air in the desert. When this happens, a high pressure builds over the Great Basin causing the cold air to sink. While the air starts as cold, it’s forced downwards which compresses and warms the air.

As a result, the air becomes dry and warm. When it begins to pass through canyons, the air picks up speed. This causes Santa Ana winds and the strong, warm wind episodes that they get their name for.

what causes santa ana winds
Santa Ana winds always blow offshore as you can see from the flag flapping toward the coast.

In summary, Santa Ana winds are hot, blustery winds. The cause of the Santa Ana winds originates in the desert valleys before blowing east to the Pacific Ocean.

Why are They Called Santa Ana Winds?

The origin of the name Santa Ana winds actually has two stories. 

Most commonly, the winds get their name from the Santa Ana canyon of Orange County. The canyon is south of Los Angeles and near the city of Santa Ana! Since the winds originate inland near Santa Ana, this name has become widely accepted.

Alternatively, some longtime LA residents believe the true name is the ‘santana’ winds before the city it’s name to Santa Ana by newer Los Angeleans.

However, one thing is for certain among surfers is that these offshore winds are preferred for surfing. As such, the debate on why they are called Santa Ana winds is not as important.

Surfing Santa Ana Winds San Diego

Surfing Santa Ana winds in San Diego or Southern California is wildly desirable.

The easterly blowing wind is called ‘offshore’ wind, and offshore wind is great for surfing. Offshore wind grooms the water surface, keeping it smooth. Also, the offshore wind holds up the lip of the wave. Normally, the lip of the wave falls quickly forward or crumbles in normal or onshore wind conditions. However, offshore wind helps keep the wave upright.

surfing santa ana winds
Santa Anas blowing offshore in San Diego

This is desirable for surfing because it creates an open, smooth face of the wave that is incredible for ripping turns and carving. Furthermore, the open face holds up for barrels which is the green dream room for every surfer. Finally, I love the spray off the lip of the wave. There’s nothing like a perfectly groomed lineup as the result of Santa Ana’s.

Is Onshore Wind Good for Surfing?

Onshore wind is the opposite of offshore wind. Onshore wind is terrible for surfing. Whereas offshore wind will hold up the face of the wave; onshore wind blows from behind the wave. As a result, onshore wind causes the wave to crumble. A strong onshore wind will cause the wave to collapse. These kind of sloppy onshore conditions are not preferred for surfing.

Generally, a good offshore day in the morning will turn onshore in the afternoon as the wind changes.

Check here to learn more about how wind affects surf conditions.

What Months do Santa Ana Winds Occur?

Santa Ana winds are most common during the cooler months of the year in Southern California. Typically, this means September through May. However, I often find that September through November is the best window for surfing Santa Ana winds. Autumn is when the temperature cools inland most rapidly. This effect is what causes Santa Ana winds and is also why they are most common during this period.

As a result, Autumn is one of the best times of year to surf in San Diego!

For those of you timing your visit to Southern California, you now know when the window to surf Santa Ana winds is best!

Where to Surf Santa Ana Winds in San Diego?

EVERYWHERE! Literally, just go surfing when Santa Ana winds are present. Santa Anas make for all time conditions. If you need a few ideas for surfing Santa Anas in San Diego, I recommend top surf spots like Blacks Beach, Swamis, and Windansea.

In summary, Santa Ana winds are a rare event. As such, surfing Santa Ana winds is a special experience for surfers. You should also try surfing one of San Diego’s top 10 waves during Santa Ana winds. I promise, you will not be disappointed.

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  • Gavin Bechtold

    Gavin has been living and surfing in San Diego for over a decade. He loves the ocean and is lucky to call San Diego home. Frustrated with mainstream reviews, he set out to create the best source of surf reviews for San Diego beaches. Check the About page for more info!