"The Conditions Were Perfect"
It's incredible rare when all the variables align and the waves show what they're capable of at their absolute peak. Part of what keeps us coming back again and again is the nearly endless pursuit of incredible waves—and even more elusive uncrowded, incredible waves!
For things to go really right at your favorite surf spot, you need the right mix of swell direction, swell period (the distance or time between waves), swell height, wind direction (high pressure or low pressure), and tide. (And the ideal variables will look different at every spot).
And for practical purposes, those things all need to align with your daily schedule, sunrise/sunnset, hopefully a little water temp in your favor, and if we're really picky—it all sneaks in during a window that isn't Saturday morning so you have a chance of getting a few waves to yourself.
This might sound like a lot, but the other thing to consider is that just when you think you have it figured out, it changes again. What time high tide occurs changes every day.
From the NOAA:
Because the Earth rotates through two tidal “bulges” every lunar day, coastal areas experience two high and two low tides every 24 hours and 50 minutes. High tides occur 12 hours and 25 minutes apart. It takes six hours and 12.5 minutes for the water at the shore to go from high to low, or from low to high.
Also, swell directions are generally seasonal. Here in California, we expect fairly infrequent but potentially large Southern swells from tropical storms. In the Winter, we expect more regular swell coming down from the Northwest.
If there's a South wind early, you can pretty much hit the snooze alarm, but when the winds blow out of the East, you'd better be down there.
I have only spent one of my 34 years living within walking distance of the beach, and a month into that year, Hurricane Marie sent massive waves to Orange County (which was well documented and high regarded) but that much water moving wiped out the sand bars right in front of the house, so instead of 11 months of fun, familiar waves, it was a deep hole where nothing really worked or broke properly. Just another humbling reminder that the variables are in constant change.
To get the most out of your surfing, you have to become somewhat of an amateur meteorologist. Catalog in your brain those times when things just lined up. The perfect conditions are hard to define because we all have different things we're after. What's perfect to one guy might be boring to the next. What's exciting to some might look daunting and miserable to others.
Showing up every Saturday morning at 9:00 am and playing the hand you're dealt might occasionally produce some fun waves, but studying the variables and playing them to your advantage will get you more great waves more often—and give you something to chase that will be so much sweeter when you find it.