Futurology: North Pacific Pumps, North Atlantic Plays Dead

Ben Freeston

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Updated 1978d ago

The Recap

A great week for the big wave scene with both Pacific and Atlantic giving us back to back big wave webcasts:

The Peahi Challenge

Taking a gamble to run the comp this early in an El Nino year the WSL pushed the button and despite a short lived swell that peaked, as forecast, overnight and a fresh and problematic trade wind the results were beyond impressive. Unusually for a marquee big wave spot we have a wave buoy almost perfectly situated to test the forecast here and generally speaking our model nailed this one for the comp. But it did overcall the forerunners the day before - a predicted Saturday evening blast didn't materialise as expected.

MSW forecast vs Pauwela buoy

MSW forecast vs Pauwela buoy

© 2021 - MSW / NDBC

La Vaca XXL

This somewhat under the radar Spanish big wave spot sits just outside the city of Santander and offered invite to the cream of the European big wave scene for a live webcast event on Sunday. We don't run a forecast for the spot (coming soon) at the moment and our city beach outlooks under called this one. Although winter in Northern Spain sees a large amount of outsized swell there's actually a fairly broad and complex continental shelf offshore that means wave heights do decay towards the coast. While we have no real-time data for La Vaca we can monitor this closely on the Buoy network around Punta Galea.


Friday's warm up swell was expectedly strange, with a solid SSW pulse in the mix. Monday's numbers always looked pretty much perfect and in fact the swell peaked in excess of the model forecast numbers, again verifiable on the decent local wave buoy. If the Peahi Challenge hadn't allowed Jaws to steal the show this would have been the standout big wave story of the weekend.

Two's up at Mavs on Monday.

Two's up at Mavs on Monday.

© 2021 - Tucker Patton

El Nino Peaks and Cools

This last week's sea surface temperatures suggest that, as would be expected, El Nino has peaked and we're starting to see cooling across all three key monitored regions. This won't affect the expectations for an outsize NPAC winter, signs of which are already evident.

The Week Ahead

The North Pacific goes full bore winter with a bomb storm producing solid long period swell for the end of the Pipe masters window. The North Atlantic takes the opposite tack and appears stuck in summers doldrums - although an endless summer on the French coast is no bad thing.

North Pacific
Sun 13th Dec

Sun 13th Dec

This swell is interesting in that it's been getting a bit more potent on every update. Because it'll track North into the Bering sea it's not developing a virtual fetch that'll push waves into the upper size range for Hawaii but it has an intensity that will develop significant sea. It's distance from the coast will then mean a really quite considerable peak period and mid sized swell. It won't rival the peak of the Peahi Challenge swell but it'll more than push the North Shore into challenge range as it develops over Tuesday and into Wednesday and will move towards Waimea rather than Pipe numbers overnight on Tuesday. Aside that interesting period and power the other unique aspect of the storms stall and northward track is that the swell will run in from the North West through the peak and as it drops into Wednesday. Typically a storm like this moving west to east will develop a more northerly direction as it progresses past the islands. There are reasons to hope this could be the pipe swell of the season so far if local conditions play ball.

Peahi from distance doesn't look any less intimidating.

Peahi from distance doesn't look any less intimidating.

© 2021 - Cameron Nelson

This same swell will hit the US West Coast at numbers that look more like a South swell than one from the North Pacific. A model forecast 2ft@19 seconds north of LA at this stage that'll kick up solid, inconsistent surf at exposed breaks with a resumption of normal winds after a spell of onshore conditions.

North Atlantic
Sat 12th Dec

Sat 12th Dec

Winter chart watching in the North Atlantic is a strange game. Because most storms develop in a way that brings them so close to the coast there tends to be very little everyman surf from the typical black hearted winter blob. As such this chart, as unseasonal as you could get for December, is actually not bad news - but something of an endless summer for most coasts. While France, for example, will develop some strong cross shore wind later in the week the recent run has been as close to perfect early Autumn in style as you could want with decent barrelling surf for days.

Cover image: Mavericks by Tucker Patton

I'll be running this as a weekly forecast outlook / recap feature so it's a great place to get in touch with any questions about the outlook in the comments below. For the very latest updates find me on twitter or instagram @ben_freeston