Monday, March 31, 2008

Surf Break Maps: Black’s Beach, La Jolla, San Diego, California

Black’s Beach is one of San Diego County’s most consistent, and heaviest, beach breaks…it is one of those swell-magnet breaks that works on almost any combination of swell. It is definitely one of the better surf spots in SoCal and like many other good surf spots it is somewhat a freak of nature.

Black’s is one of the few Southern California beach breaks that can legitimately hold a breaking wave anywhere from 2-feet to 15-feet+ on the face. It breaks year-round while most of South San Diego shuts down as the North Pacific Storm Track weakens over the summer. It has some protection from southerly winds while being able to pull in SW’erly swell (which is damn hard to do…). Like I said…a freak.

There are 3 major factors that drive the shape and the consistency of this wave…

1. Location – It sits in a good spot along the coast…with a fairly large swell window.

2. Orientation – The beach faces due west…opening it up to both SW and WNW swells.

3. Sea-Floor Bathymetry - The Scripps and La Jolla Submarine Canyons sit right offshore and act like giant amplifiers for incoming long-period swells (11…it is one more than 10!)

Going into a little more detail…
Black’s is located about 1km north of the Scripps Pier and just to the South of the Torrey Pines Glider Port (port or park I am not really sure…I just know they fly big kites there). Most of the Black’s beach stretch faces almost due west…which exposes the beach to both WNW and SW swells. The southern section of the beach has a slight hook-and-bend to it which swings the shoreline back towards the WNW…effectively adding that extra winter-oomph to the south peak.

It also helps that the geographical positioning of the beach means it is exposed to the SW-WSW swell directions, but more importantly, that it has a very large WNW window as well. With a first glance at a SoCal map you would almost think that a lot of NW swell would be blocked by the nearshore islands…but when you take a closer look you see a large gap just south of the Channel Islands that allows swell to pass through. And you also see that the swell would eventually hit the NW tips of San Clemente and Catalina Islands allowing a lot of the energy to pass around the islands rather than getting blocked.

The final factor is the Scripps Submarine Canyon, and to a lesser degree the La Jolla Submarine Canyon. The set of super deep trenches just off the coast allow long-period swells to refract differently than they would if they hit a more consistent coastline. On SW swells they wrap the energy that should have skipped past the area (or been mostly blocked by La Jolla Point) back into the beach keeping us in waves during the summer that should have been heading exclusively towards O-side and Trestles. On NW swells these canyons do about the same thing but, because the beach already has a more natural exposure to the WNW, it hooks excess energy back towards the beach causing it to double-up as it moves into the surf zone…effective peaking up a swell that should have been mostly closed out.

There are 3 main peaks at Black’s…they are appropriately named South Peak, Middle Peak, and North Peak (man who says surfers aren’t creative). South and Middle peak have a tendency to work better on WNW swells and strong swell combos of WNW/SW (along with some shorter period windswell). North peak works on the SW/WSW swells and again on the SW/NW swell combos.

WNW swells

SW swells

The Best Surf
While I have talked a lot about Black’s breaking year round (and it does)…the break really starts to shine when we get a clean long-period WNW swell (280-290). Black’s loves these types of swells…they hit the canyon just right and you get that nearly iconic hollow bowl forming the left at the South Peak. These are the types of swells where Black’s can maintain a makeable wave even when there is a hell of a lot of energy in the water…in fact it generally starts to break hollower, with a longer section, and is less tide sensitive, as the swell gets bigger.

Personally I like it when there is enough energy to set up some consistent head high surf with sets running to a couple of feet overhead on the face…(any bigger and I start to scream like a little girl when I try to drop in going backside…it is sad really). Unfortunately that is about the magic size for everyone…and the crowd starts crawling out of the woodwork.

Getting There is Half the Fun
About the only thing that semi-saves Black’s from being blitzed by an unbelievable crowd on a daily basis is that is located at the base of a pretty good sized cliff that is almost 200’ high in places. The length of the walk, and the brutal climb in elevation, keeps a lot of people from using blacks as a lunchtime or quick dawn patrol spot. Basically you need to have a good amount of time to make the round trip from your car to the surf and back again. Naturally Black’s is a great weekend spot…and the crowd can get ridiculous because everyone and their cousin have a couple of hours to kill surfing.

There are a couple of ways to get down to the beach…one is a series of semi-sketchy goat-trails up by the glider area…these are hazardous on the best days…and if there has been any rain, or even heavy dew, I wouldn’t even think about trying to get down that way.

The other, and more traditional route, is to park up off La Jolla Farms road and head down the gated and semi-paved trail. You need to watch where you park, the neighborhood is pretty freaking swanky and their panties can get in a serious bunch if you spoil their view by bare-assing your wetsuit change in front of their “estate”. Tickets and towing can be a definite issue so try and obey the local parking laws.

The Key
There is a near mythical key to the Black’s entry trail/road. Supposedly if you have a copy of the key you can unlock the gate and drive to the bottom of the road cutting out a ton of time that it takes to get into the water. There are very, very, very few of these keys and they owners of them guard them jealously. I remember reading a story recently (and if you know where this story is…send me the link) about these keys…and how one owner’s best friend basically ransacked his house looking for the key while he was out…it was pretty classic and yet messed up at the same time. The rumor is that the captain or coach of the UCSD Surf Team has a copy of the Key…I am sure there are a few others (other than lifeguards) but they aren’t as well known.

Black’s has a reputation for being a nude beach and while it isn’t technically legal it is tolerated in certain areas. Personally I could care less if people want to take off their clothes…if it is warm enough to go prancing about in your birthday suit whatever floats your boat…just try not to hassle anyone. The general nude area is north of the surf spot…just a bit past the glider port. So if you were thinking about catching a few meaty barrels and then heading straight to the beach to drop trou…think again…not everyone on the beach (or many of the surfers in the water) want to see your junk…try and keep it to the designated areas.

Spot details:
Best swell direction:
SW-NW (205-290+) the longer the swell period the better)…good combo swells work well too.
Best Wind: NE-ESE, light to moderate wind speeds work the best.
Sea Floor: Sand and a near bottomless canyon where sea creatures will come and eat you.
Best Season: Year round…but really shines on Fall/Winter WNW swells.
Crowds: Yes it does get crowded…there is decent sized dawn patrol despite the cliff but you can find a few openings here and there until it gets a decent swell. Weekends when it is around the head high range can max it out. (it does get surprisingly empty as sets near the 15’+ range)

1 comment:

Jason Gastrich said...

Sweet article. Thanks! I live in PB and just catch waves here because it's so close, but I've been wanting to check out Blacks. I think I visited once when I was a kid. When I tell people in OC I catch waves in SD, they always mention Blacks. It's high time I go check out these 3 peaks....when I'm not so lazy.

Btw, the last part about dropping trou cracked me up. Enjoy this upcoming swell! And btw again, while the poop stuff is funny, I hope one day we can make this polluted runoff go somewhere else so it doesn't fuck up our surf.