How to Find the Best Skim Spot
Finding the best place to skimboard in your area is one the most important things you can do, and also one of the most difficult. You can practice for years, but unless your practicing on good waves, you wont get much better. Skimboarding is about wave riding. Yes, people do ‘sand skim’ but the truth of the matter is that it doesn’t get challenging until you try to ride a wave. And if it aint challenging, then what’s the point?
When I go to a place that I have never been before and want to know where to skim, I walk up to one of the local surfers and ask: “What is the most dangerous shore break around here?”. I ask this because the ideal skimboarding wave is one that breaks hard and close to the shore. For most people (the common tourist) this amounts to very dangerous conditions, but for skimboarders, it is a blessing (assuming you know what you are doing, of course). This is a good way to find a place to skim in an area that you don’t know but, probably wont help you out too much in your home town because you should already know what the beaches are generally like in your area.
When trying to find a good spot, the number one mistake I see people make is that they do not think that the waves are rideable, even though they are still breaking right on (or near) the shore. This is crap. People often do not recognize good waves when they see them. Often this can be due to the size or power of the waves and the waves close proximity to the shore. Although the waves may not be easily rideable, or even rideable at all by certain skimmers, it can be done, if you know what you are doing. The punch-line is that you will never know how to ride an Aliso type wave if you do not ride try to ride Aliso type waves. Seems simple enough doesn’t it? However time and time again I see this. Even in Laguna Beach, a place where you would think that people would understand the possibilities of the sport, people often make this mistake. Kids will often skimboard at spots in Laguna that are fun, but not great. Meanwhile three miles down the road there are mind blowing waves rolling through and some of the sports best talent are going off. The bottom line is, go look at every spot and keep an open mind. You may not find “the best waves on earth”, but I am willing to bet that you can find something better.
Okay, so now I convinced you to go look at what else is available in your area. But what are you looking for? Good question, glad you asked. I will never be able to fully describe to you what makes for a good skimboarding wave. This kind of knowledge can only be attained by experience, but I can give you tips to help you on your way. Here are some key things to look for.
The slope of the sand is critical. Generally speaking, the steeper the slope, the better. There are a couple of reasons why steep slopes are better. First of all they make it easier to run quickly because gravity is pushing you along. Secondly, the slope helps the waves to break closer to shore and minimizes dead water. Generally speaking, a beach with a steep slope will have a quicker drop off under water because the slope usually continues to be steep beyond the waters edge. Because a certain size swell always breaks at a certain depth, the waves break closer to shore when the drop off is quicker. This allows powerful waves to be reachable on a skimboard, which is exactly what you want to see.
But what makes one beach have a steep slope and another beach have a flat slope? Ironically, the waves do. But what is interesting is that certain swells from different directions will have certain affects on the sand. In most areas there is a pattern to this behavior. Generally speaking, if you are looking out at the ocean, a swell coming from your right will make the right side of the beach have a steeper slope and the left side of the beach have a flatter slope, and vice-versa for a swell coming from the left. The pattern may be different in your area, and for individual beaches, but there is a pattern. Learn it because it is very important to understand this when checking out the waves. Almost every beach will look a lot different after a north swell than a south swell. If you don’t understand how swell direction affects the sand conditions it will be impossible for you to predict where and when it is going to be good.
Another important factor to consider is the tide. If you check a break at low tide and the waves are too far out, don’t dismiss it and say that it sucks! In five hours it might get really good and you will miss it if you are not careful.
There are also some special considerations that you should always be looking out for, most notably sidewash. If there are any rocks or jetties in your area, be sure to check them out because they could produce a sider. Sidewashes are notoriously fickle though, even at the best spots so if you don’t check it out often, you probably will not catch it. Nevertheless, even if there is not a “Tenth Street style” sider working, small surges created by rocks or jetties can greatly improve the straight wave skimboarding by giving the waves more shape (Example Picture). For instance, Aliso rarely has a working sider but almost always has a small surge coming off the rocks. This surge gives the waves more of a shoulder and drastically improves the conditions.
All in all, the most important thing is to know what is available in your area at all times. Check all the beaches often (I do it about once a week) because sand conditions can change overnight. By getting in the habit of doing this you can get better waves and become a better skimboarder.
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