April 22, 2024
wave size in san diego

Wave Size in San Diego: How Big are They?

I’ve been surfing San Diego for years and quite honestly, the wave size in Diego varies all the time. You get days with small surf, days with large surf, and days with everything in between.

Fortunately, this variety in wave size caters to all levels of surfers. Unfortunately, that means you won’t always have pumping, head-high surf.

In this post, learn how to measure wave height, the average wave height in San Diego, and how wave size in San Diego compares to other places in the world.

How do you Measure Wave Height?

Actually, how do you measure wave height? That is the best place for this article to begin before we begin talking about wave size in Diego or wave size anywhere for that matter.

Generally, wave heights are measured by two different scales. The first is the face scale and the second is the Hawaiian scale. Why do Hawaiians measure wave height differently? Well, waves are a lot bigger in Hawaii than anywhere else!

In San Diego, we use the face scale. With the face scale wave, wave height measures from the trough (bottom of the wave) to the crest (peak of the wave).

In Hawaii, they instead measure wave height using the back of the wave. As a result, a wave half the size on the Hawaii scale is the equivalent of its counterpart on the face scale roughly double in size. For example, if someone said the waves were 2 feet on the Hawaiian scale – that would roughly equate to a four-foot wave using the face scale.

As you can see, you will easily be surprised if you were surfing in Hawaii and someone told you the waves were 2-3 feet. You’d end up paddling out in 4-6-foot surf which could be a rude awakening for beginners.

In summary, you measure wave height differently on the Hawaiian scale than the face scale. In San Diego and for the rest of this article, we’ll use the face scale.

how do you measure wave height
How do you measure wave height with the Hawaii scale vs Face scale

What is the Average Wave Size in San Diego?

On average, the wave size in San Diego is between 3-4 feet year-round.  Of course, there is much variability throughout the year and season. For example, winter surf is generally larger than summer surf. With that said, there are always exceptions to the rule.

The Fairweather wave size in San Diego makes it a great place to learn and for intermediate surfers alike.

How Small does Surf get in San Diego?

Wave size in San Diego will get as small as a dribble during flat spells. These flat spells are most common in late Spring/early Summer when wave height will range from 1-2 feet.

wave size in san diego
Tiny San Diego surf

How Big are the Waves in San Diego?

On the contrary, San Diego is quite capable of producing large, pumping swells. In fact, 6-8 foot swells usually happen a couple of times each winter.

wave size in san diego
A big day surfing Blacks Beach – this surf spot gets some of the biggest surf in San Diego

The largest wave size in San Diego usually doesn’t go over 15 feet. On days like this, it’s best to find a big wave spot such as La Jolla Cove to watch the surfers paddle in on their big boards.

How does the Wave Size in San Diego Compare to Other Places in the World?

As mentioned, San Diego is pretty Fairweather when it comes to wave size. Sure, you get your big days but even the largest days in San Diego pale in comparison to big days at Pipes in Hawaii, Teahupoo in Tahiti, or Nazare in Portugal.

With that said, surf in San Diego is generally larger and more consistent than places like Florida or New York.

Overall, I would consider the wave size in San Diego a ‘fun wave’ size that is good for most if not all levels of surfers depending on the day.

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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!