While most people spend the winter bundled up in lumpy down jackets and wool socks, the surfers of the world know that the season is one of the best times to, as they say, shred the gnar. Winter storms generate bigger, more consistent swells to surf. “Most people have heard of the classic surf film The Endless Summer, but what surfers like myself chase is actually the opposite,” says professional big wave surfer Mark Healey. “We spend the Northern Hemisphere Winter in the north and when spring arrives we turn our focus to Fall/Winter in the Southern Hemisphere.”
Not only are the waves in their prime, but the crowds can be smaller, too. “In California it’s much colder, and with the larger waves you can often times find less people in the water and score magic windows all over the coastline,” says Patrick Gudauskas, a pro surfer from SoCal. While Gudauskas loves the cold, don’t be afraid of it; technology’s got your back. “Wetsuit technology is so much better these days that it makes the colder locations a lot more bearable too,” Healey says. And even if you’re not a budding John John Florence, these places are still excellent spots for a chill winter beach vacation where you can rub elbows with some low-key surf brahs.
Here’s where Healey and Gudauskas chase winter surf.
Todos Santos Island, Mexico
Why you’re surfing here: “The wave that breaks off of Todos Santos Island is actually called Killers. The island is located 19 mi off the coast of Ensenada, Baja California and is only accessible by boat,” Healey says. “On the biggest swells it can reach heights of 50-feet plus. The only thing on the island is a candy cane light house and one or two people operating it. Being in big surf with clear water and kelp beds just makes me feel like I’m experiencing what the West Coast was like fifty years ago.”
Where you’re staying: “Hotel Coral & Marina is definitely the best bet. It’s a nice hotel with good food, [but] most importantly, you get access to the launch ramp at the harbor. Ensenada Harbor usually gets shut down when the surf gets huge, so the Marina at Hotel Coral is the only place boats and safety skis can launch from on those days.”
Why you’re surfing here: “Mavericks is a cold and mean big wave off the coast of San Francisco. The potential for progression in big wave surfing is still alive and well there,” Healey says. “The way waves break at “the bowl” is almost unridable, so you are always taking off right on the line of what’s accepted as possible in surfing at the moment and what’s not. Knowing that you can go out there and try to push that line really gets me excited.” Gudauskas is on the same page. “I absolutely love Mavericks,” he says. “It’s rare for me to catch it because of all my travels, but it’s one of my all time favorite waves in the world. It’s so majestic and scary at the same time that I always leave with so much stoke and energy it’s amazing.”