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Is it the swell of the year or the swell of the decade?

If this was a taste of what is in store for 2024, we might be in for the biggest year since 1969. That’s a historic milestone. Most of the media was focused on Mavericks and rightly so as it is the star of the big swell shows. But take a look at the shots of these classic surf spots up and down the coast from Point Conception to the Mexican border. Read what some of the best observers reported. They all had one thing in common. “It was the biggest I’ve ever seen it.

Rincon – Surfer Connor Coffin – photo: Brent Flaaten
photo: Brent Flaaten

Respected local surfer Walt Cerny gave this description of the San Luis Obispo area:

“This was probably the largest swell I’ve ever seen here. Spots were breaking I didn’t know existed. I had to wait for the tide to go out as high tide had surf smashing against cliffs at St Anne’s as well as a house ready to fall in. Got lucky with the medium tide to dodge some double overhead sets and find a few great rides with shoulders.”

Point Conception can work like a magnet for swells like this – which are rare but game-changing.

The Ranch was not to be outdone. Drake’s lineup was holding with double overhead peaks pouring through. Newport legend and former Quiksilver star Danny Kwock recounted an incident at Hollister where a freak 20′ set capsized several boats and led to the rescue of several surfers.

“Insane!” was Kwock’s only comment.

Just a few miles down the coast Malibu icon and Big Wednesday screenwriter Denny Aaberg described the Santa Barbara area: “Hammonds was 6 ft yesterday. Rincon was 8 to 10 and a bit bumpy.

Ventura – photo: Brent Flaaten

Malibu was breaking too. Saturday looks like it might be even bigger!”

Moving southward the waves continued to march as well.

“Ventura was pumping but it was so hard to get out,” the long-time local observer from Oxnard recounted. “Only guys who are total locals and have ten years of surfing the place were getting barreled and making waves.”

Owen Miller, La Jolla – Photo: Evans

“Northern LA county was going off lines to the horizon a very consistent swell, noted surf photographer Paul Fisher. “Malibu, Topanga, and some secret spots were solid head-high-plus. It’s a true late Christmas present for all.”

In Orange County, the Seal Beach Pier, River Jetties, and Huntington Cliffs were getting hammered. The Wedge in Corona Del Mar, Brooks Street Laguna, and secret spots all along were showing what a swell of this size can offer.

At Aliso Creek the skimboarders were ripping the pounding shore break, getting tumbled like so much flotsam when they didn’t make it.

The waves at high tide last night washed completely over the beach over the berm, through the parking lot, and onto Pacific Coast Highway. The traffic was diverted around it but the beach was closed.

In Dana Point, Salt Creek and some more rare unridden spots were pumping too.

“The waves at Salt Creek were only ridable on the way outside in front of the Ritz,” Jack’s Surf Shop employee Buddy Purel told me. “Insane rides but people kept coming out of the water all bloody! Purel said. “So many guys getting hurt out there!”

Black’s, canyon refraction at work. Photo: Weybret

In the San Clemente region, SURFER writer and comrade got some of the best lefts in recent memory riding “all the way to the lifeguard tower.” The whole Trestles series of points were struggling to keep up with the swell. Even outside spots further south were options.

“Trail 1 was holding the swell this morning even on the high tide,” reported veteran surf traveler Tim Meek. “Got better with the dropping tide and wind wasn’t an issue.”

It was no different crossing Camp Pendleton into North County.

Boardroom founder and KPBS surf reporter Scott Bass had his usual concise observations about the San Diego region. “Waves are down just a touch from Thursday evening’s massive sets,“ he told me. “Still rather un-surfable at most spots with the known big wave locations getting a lot of attention.” Friday morning Bass was calling it 8′ with 10’12’ sets.”

Tyler Warren draws a classic line through the barrel on a Skip Frye fish. Photo: Zoller

“The period is down to 15 seconds,” Bass notes, then makes a prediction: “Another big shot of swell is expected overnight into Saturday. Look out!”

From Del Mar South, the winter swell shows some of its best connections. SLAW website founder John Cocozza who had been filming all yesterday and today along the coast, all the way to the Sunset Cliffs area. He reported waves breaking from Blacks to Little Waimea. His footage is as always – clean, current, and cutting-edge.

“The really sick barrel at the end of the clip is hot young goofy-footer Jordy Collins”.

Tim Bessell, a frequent Cloudbreak visitor and surfboard designer from La Jolla summed up the day: “Biggest swell ever. The Cove was breaking. That happens every couple of decades.”

original story published in

By Jim Kempton

President of the California Surf Museum

Jim Kempton is an author, editor, film writer, and historian. Over his career, he was Editor and Publisher of Surfer Magazine, Group Publisher for TransWorld Publishing, Director of the Quiksilver Crossing, and Media Director of Billabong.