National Winter Swell Wrap

1 Sep 2011 0 Share

Swell Wrap
Winter of 2011.
Words By Ben Horvath.

Spring is upon us - a season to rejoice, a metaphor for the start of better times, a period when romance flourishes, flowers bloom and temperatures rise. Sounds epic, but surfers like asthmatics can and often do suffer in spring.

In Queensland the dreaded devil winds (Northerlies) often dominate, and in the rest of the country all day winter offshores are generally replaced by mid morning sea breezes. The water temperature is usually at its coolest in September, yet polar lows more often than not are pushed southward beyond our swell window by large blocking high pressure systems. Gym junkies, inked up posers and petrol heads come out to parade on the prom, whilst esky and umbrella wielding white bread families flock to our beaches en masse, armed with all sorts of waterborne weaponry. As crowds increase, lifeguards shut down large sectors of urban beaches, enforcing flagged swimming safety zones, minimising board riding options.

Spring can be chaotic, a real shock to the system for surfers, but we somehow adjust and manage to dodge the crowds through a meticulous combination of planning and plotting. We survive on a diet of fleeting groundswells, and shorter period wind swells. We rise at dawn to beat the wind and crowds, and clock up extra kilometres searching for less populated options up and down the coast or overseas.

Like polar bears that fatten up on food to survive the lean months, surfers feast in winter, frantically topping up our wave quota during the premium months so we can get through the inevitable spring and summer flat spells.

Here's to the memories.

Mid winter fun in the sun at Kirra on July 23, 2011.

Mid winter fun in the sun at Kirra on July 23, 2011.

Queensland Season Rating 8/10.

Winter in South East Queensland was well above average.  Coastalwatch chief surf reporter Johnny Charlton said, "There was a feast of waves with barely a flat spell. It was very consistent with endless weeks of waves in the 2-3 foot range. The swell direction ranged from SSE to ESE. It seemed every week or ten days, there was a 4-5 foot plus pulse that lasted for days. The water was clean and mild hovering at 20 degrees, only dipping to 19 for a couple of weeks during the depths of winter."

No one around to surf this A-frame perfection on the Coal Coast.

No one around to surf this A-frame perfection on the Coal Coast.

JC added, "the banks on all the points were in excellent condition all winter due to the lack of a major storm swell this year, and the weather has been nothing short of sensational after almost a year of record rainfall. Clear skies and morning offshore winds have been the usual fare. In summation, whilst there weren't any massive swell events, there was a constant supply of fun, high performance waves for surfers on all types of boards."

Highlights – The first post Easter madness swell hit on April 28. Suss Craig's Standout Session Snapper video...

After a great weekend of 3-5 foot waves it looked like we were in for more of the same on Monday morning May 2. The swell really pulsed mid to late morning though. By 11.00AM there was so much water moving around that only the north facing points were handling the swell. The Pass at Byron, Snapper to Kirra and Noosa were the pick as the east facing points were washing through too much, particularly for paddle in surfers. View the May 1-3 Standout Session video.

The start of winter heralded a couple of days of smoking waves on the Gold Coast.  JC said, "South East Queensland and Northern New South Wales started pumping on Wednesday May 31 as light south westerly winds cleaned up a rising 3-5 foot ESE swell. All the points including Burleigh, Currumbin Alley, Snapper into Greenmount, The Pass and Lennox fired on Wednesday through Saturday." If you haven't seen our video footage of Snapper on Wednesday and Thursday June 1 and 2 yet, check it out.

The long period south groundswell that delivered in South Australia, Victoria, Tasmania and New South Wales finally made its way up the coast to light up northern New South Wales on July 13. Watch the Standout Sessions video.

I flew up to sample some late winter point break gold from the July 23 – 28 East Coast Low. Kirra, The Superbank, Burleigh and Currumbin all pumped. As the swell settled Tweed and northern New South Wales points fired too. On Saturday morning July 23 I paddled out in sunny 3-5 foot relatively uncrowded Kirra pre dawn. Snapper was 4-6 foot and crowded in the dark. The swell was a little to south to be super hollow at Snapper, but it suited the fast bank at Kirra nicely. Further south Lennox was a solid 6-8 foot, whilst The Pass at Byron was a clean and ultra crowded 2-3 foot, whilst The Wreck was a clean 3 foot. Jack Freestone was flying out the front at Main Beach, Byron. As usual Coastalwatch's Craig Halstead nailed it all on vid.

Terra Richmond soul arching with style on one of many perfect days at Cronulla Point.

Terra Richmond soul arching with style on one of many perfect days at Cronulla Point.

New South Wales Season Rating 8.5/10

New South Wales surfers have little to complain about. We enjoyed a very impressive three month run of consistent, quality surf from late April through late July, and August had its moments too.

After a La Nina Summer that was supposed to deliver, but didn't, the first half of Autumn on the East Coast was a let down too. In 2011 Easter fell late, increasing the probability of a solid start to the real surf season.

Easter acts as a surfer's solstice, signalling the start of a very special time of year when the water is still warm, crowds recede and the weather patterns come alive with swell delivering potential.

Premium surf season in Sydney and surrounds started a week or so after Easter when everyone went back to work and school. From late April until late July being a surfer was akin to being a grommet unleashed in an amusement park for the very first time, and getting a free coupon to try every single ride.

Late Autumn/Winter on the East Coast had it all. There was something for all tastes, sizes, and thrill seeking levels.

There were countless, cloudless, clean, offshore 3-4 foot beach break days, several mid size 4-6 foot groundswells, a bunch of double overhead 6-8 foot cave dwelling days, a few wild, stormy East Coast Low's and two or three 10 foot plus novelty swells. There were record rainfalls in July, followed by ten consecutive days with maximum temperatures well over 20 degrees culminating in our one and only winter flat spell in early August.


After a pathetic Easter dogged by poor weather and waves, everyone was hanging out for some waves. The entire East Coast surfing populace were teased and tormented by media saturation of clean, overhead Bells and Winki during Easter when finally, the first real East Coast Low of the Autumn/Winter season twisted up in the Northern Tasman. It was time to groove from April 28 – May 1.

In early May Huey turned the volume up a notch when a clean 5-6 foot plus E groundswell hit Sydney and surrounds belatedly on Monday afternoon May 2.

Mark Mathews summed up the swell when he said, "Initially it was quite slow and inconsistent at Ours. There was the odd five footer every half hour or so. However, we kept getting reports to hang in there, because it had picked up in Queensland. I'm stoked we stayed, because it was absolutely firing at 6-8 foot on some sets for the late. The long–period East swell made it super heavy. Dingo had his first surf out Ours and scored some mental ones. So did Marty Paradisis, Hippo, Richie Vass, Mooney, Dom Wills and the usual suspects like Ev, Jesse and Bones."

The magnificent month of May rarely disappoints. May 7 – 15 was well, wicked.

Historically May is traditionally a standout month on the east coast of Australia, both in terms of swell size and consistency. A favourable Southern Ocean storm track produced a succession of southerly pulses.

In Sydney the south-facing reefs and beachies off Cronulla and Bondi generally pick up more south swell than the Northern Beaches. Similarly south of Jervis Bay picks up more south swell than the Coal and Leisure Coasts both north and south of Wollongong. Similarly the Central and Hunter Coasts almost always pick up more south than the Northern Beaches of Sydney. Now I know that is a massive generalisation, and of course there are plenty of individual south-facing magnets that defy that general rule of thumb on a daily basis, but on Wednesday May 18, 2011 all those rules or guidelines were thrown out the door. Size discrepancies spun everyone out during the May 16-19 South swell event. Long Reef Bombie was 8-10 foot. Voodoo was 6-8 foot max. 

May was magnificent, but the first few days of June were BALLISTIC. Hot on the heels of the coldest May in 41 years, a month with five outstanding swell events from a variety of angles and only four days under 3 foot in Sydney, you could be forgiven for thinking things could hardly get much better right?

Maybe not. During the first week of Winter from June 1-6, The East Coast Exploded courtesy of another ECL delivering a solid 6-8 foot ENE swell to Sydney and surrounds.

An ECL off northern New South Wales dumped record rainfall and pushed up an east swell from June 10 – 19.  It was similar, though slightly smaller than the one a fortnight before producing Wild Weather and Perfect Pits.

The Best Swell Of Winter delivered massive waves to all South East states from July 5-11.  This was the swell with Hawaiian length swell periods of 18 seconds (incredibly rare on the East Coast.) The incredibly intense polar low produced 10 foot waves in South Australia, 12 foot Bells, 20 foot plus point waves in Southern Tasmania and super clean 10 footers in Sydney and surrounds.

July 2011 certainly can lay claim to being one of the best fortnights of consistent overhead swell during a school holiday period in New South Wales ever. Monday July 4 was the only surf-less day during the entire fortnight winter grom break. By Tuesday July 5 it was 3-4 foot and offshore, sunny and pretty much flawless, and it pumped for two weeks.

The South Swell That Refused to Die continued from July 11-15. Cronulla Point, Bronte and Dee Why Point were as good as they get. Every day was sunny, offshore thick and powerful. Monday July 11 was the biggest day, peaking at a solid 10 foot. Mattie Grainger, The Captain, Dooma and more towed 10 foot plus Long Reef.

Yet another East Coast Low Wreaks Havoc in Sydney from July 20-25. After the wettest July week since 1950 Sydney surfers were crawling out of their skin to get out and amongst it by the weekend. Read the full feature here...

Cyclonic onshores made a mess of the ocean from Tuesday through Friday. Then finally on Saturday morning the rain cleared and winds shifted west of south. Queenscliff Bomby, The Manly/North Steyne beachies and Fairy Bower pumped. Luke Cheadle, Tom Myers, Nelson Kingery, Danny Hamilton, Matt Hatton and a bunch of local crew were out lapping up some tube time and rare sunshine. Watch the clip of Draining Pipes and Big Bombs...

After days of storm surf and rain the wind swung offshore and the rain cleared on Sunday July 24. An all star cast including Tom Carroll, Ross Clarke Jones, Dean Morrison, Mark Mathews and Bones Dwyer to name a few, were on hand to charge the solid death chambers that Solander always delivers when the variables line up as they did on the Sabbath. Josh Househam was on hand to video the action for Coastalwatch. Sunday July 24Standout Session Slabbing Solander.

The first week of August 2011 was flat. A large blocking high parked itself in the Tasman delivering Northwest winds and a near record warm spell, blocking any Southern Ocean cold fronts or associated low pressure systems from impacting our weather or more importantly our swell window.

There were three particular days of quality, strangely uncrowded episodes of ENE swell in August. Monday August 8 was ghostly quiet, Thursday August 18 and Wednesday August 24 delivered almost identical 4-5 foot ENE pulses that combined with all day offshores and sunny skies.

The Surf Coast awoke from its Winter slumber during the last week of August. Winki at sunset on August 28.

The Surf Coast awoke from its Winter slumber during the last week of August. Winki at sunset on August 28.

Victoria Season Rating 5/10

Surf season kicked off with a bang in Victoria according to Coastalwatch's Carlo Lowdon. Carlo enthused, "Easter at Bells was really, really good, with plenty of swell and favourable offshore winds. It felt like the weather patterns were returning to a normal kind of old school Victorian pattern of wind, waves and rain. There were plenty of banks around on the beachies on all coasts too. The swell didn't really drop under 3 foot for two weeks in late April/early May."

Unfortunately though it all went a little pear shaped after that. Carlo said, "We only had one major swell event all Winter on the weekend of July 9 and 10.  It was well documented that there were solid 10-12 foot waves at Bells and Winki that weekend."

Carlo summarised saying, "After the big one, the swell was really west all Winter, so the Surf Coast rarely got over 3 feet. Phillip Island, the East Coast and down south still had their fair share of waves, but the swell ran right by the Surf Coast until the 4-5 foot pulse we enjoyed during the last week of August."

South Australia Season Rating 5.5/10

It was a pretty average winter in South Australia, well below last year's standards.

As per the rest of the South Eastern states one particular swell event stands out. Sunday July 10 was massive. Roman Vincent from Cut Loose said, "It was one of the biggest swells on the South Coast ever. There were well overhead waves on the foreshore of Victor Harbour. Down in Encounter Bay there were several standout spots churning out double overhead pits."

Roman continued, "It was a winter kind of plagued by unfavourable winds. Winds were rarely ideal for Yorkes, but when we did get a couple of days of northerlies there was a series of great banks at West Cape."

"More often than not though we endured week after week of strong WSW winds often limiting options."

Roman concluded the West was best, more options in different winds and more swell on tap.

Western Australia Season Rating 5/10

Coastalwatch's man in the West Dan Wyer reports that, "Winter 2011 saw a return to old school Winter weather patterns with big back to back messy stormy swells in the south of the state. Desert dwellers in the North scored the best of the season with plenty of pumping offshore days." Coastalwatch's Tim Bonython trekked up to the desert to capture a few desert drainers on video, view Tim's August 10 post here.

Dan continued, "in between the endless weeks of unfavourable stormy conditions in the south-west there were some occasional clean, offshore days. Stand out days included July 21 when a clean 10-15 foot long-period SW swell graced our shores, airbrushed to perfection by offshore ENE wind conditions."

Perth surfers scored some good days too. There were some rare quality banks along the Trigg's – Scarborough stretch of beach breaks throughout the season.

The biggest swell of Winter 2011 arrived on July 28. Huge seas and swell peaked anywhere between the 20-30 foot mark. The Cape Naturaliste wave buoy recorded a massive peak of average wave heights well over 8 metres. All this coupled with gale force onshore winds gusting over 100km/hr resulting in sea spray drifting as far inland as the Margaret River town site. Novelty corners behind the Capes were the only options for anything surfable. These breaks were a saviour in the Southwest through the season with numerous fun days surfed at breaks like Castle Rock, Pt Piquet and Eagle Bay beach breaks.

- Ben Horvath

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