The Great Big Swell That Hugged Half the World

Jason Lock

by on

Updated 39d ago

Cover shot of New Zealand by Donna Falconer

Towards the tail end of last month, an ominous colossal black blob of swell formed off the southern coast of Australia. From there, this storm grew at a rapid pace. And when there's storms, there's wind. And where there's wind, there's waves.

Multiple other smaller storms fed into this thing; a ravenous carnivore, snarling out at sea and training its gaze northwards with laser-like precision.

Remember that Teahupoo swell? This was the same thing. But also, New Zealand, Hawaii, central America, Southern California and more were bludgeoned by this thing, creating thousands of waves across each area, ridden by probably thousands of different surfers in the great connected circle of surfing.

The swell that started it all!

The swell that started it all!

Let's swing it over to MSW forecaster Tony Butt to run this down.

Origins of a Big Swell Hug
The storm started life as a disturbance way south of Tasmania around April 24. This thing was big, and moved east, building as it went and just a few days later, wound up on the south east of New Zealand.

By then, it was a very powerful storm, with huge areas of storm-force winds. This carried on for about 24 hours, and generated a pulse of large, long-period swell.

By the Wednesday, just a few days later, another storm formed nearby, which quickly grew in power, producing a secondary area of strong winds close behind the first. This second windfield wasn’t quite as strong as the first, but it moved in a north-easterly direction over the next 48 hours. Now what this did was increase the distance over which the wind can generate swell and ended up producing a second pulse of long-period swell.

A Tale of Two Swells
The two pulses almost merged into one, and, after first hitting the east coast of New Zealand, continued on to Tahiti, Hawaii’s South Shore, Central America, Mexico and Southern California. Some spots, particularly the more distant ones, enjoyed several days of quality surf, with a slight dip in the middle between the two pulses. The fact that it persisted for longer at spots further away from the storm centre is a great example of swell dispersion in action (aka, how waves travel over the ocean, which you can read about here).

Here is a quick breakdown of the swell arriving at various different spots.

New Zealand Gets Things Started

Moss Thompson under cover.

Moss Thompson under cover.

© 2022 - Donna Falconer.

There’s the saying that at any moment of the day the surf is cooking somewhere. Now you could apply this theory to New Zealand very easily, with its multifaceted coastline, open to all swell directions. Somewhere also has to be offshore, there’s even corners that are groomed clean in the same relentless wind that’s delivering the swell to its shoreline, think about that. You can almost guarantee that on any given day in this wonderful country someone is riding a fun wave, or that wave is breaking and no one even knows it. This swell lasted for 10 days straight from its initial pulse.

April 26: first pulse arrives, eight feet or so at exposed spots, and continues until 28th.
April 28: second pulse arrives, hits ten feet or so, then decreasing over next 24 hours.

Tahiti's Juggernaut Session

We went all in for this Teahupoo swell. It wasn't historic like Code Red, but the energy and vibe in the water went next level. It was one of those days where multiple story-lines played out over those three days of wild and wide Tahitian power.

April 28: long-period forerunners arrive, periods up to 23 secs at first.
April 29: swell fills in and increases, peaking at ten feet or so by 30th then very gradually decreasing.
May 1: second pulse arrives, re-boosting wave heights to over ten feet, dropping gradually over next 48 hours.

Both Shores of Hawaii Get Blasted

Brittany Penaroza

Brittany Penaroza

© 2022 - Mike Ito.

The South Shore of Oahu has long been known as the birthplace of modern surfing. Also, “Town” — where high-rise hotels crowd the waterfront, boutique stores (among other things) line the beachfront promenade and the lineups are littered with all manner of watercraft and ability. The North Shore of Oahu was dubbed “The Seven-Mile-Miracle” decades ago by surf historian Matt Warshaw. Also, “Country” — where single family homes dot the narrow, rugged coastline, it’s pretty much lights-out at 8pm, and when it’s on, its waves are reserved for experts and pintails. Oh, and perhaps more importantly: Country is winter and Town is summer. Oil and water.

But this is not always the case. Sometimes, as happened last month, a last-gasp North Pacific storm and a freshly made South Pacific storm can happen at the same time and send pumping surf to both shores — on the same day. Such as here.

May 2: long-period forerunners arrive, periods well over 20 secs at first.
May 3: swell fills in, peaking at around five or six feet, then dropping gradually.
May 4: forerunners of second swell arrive, wave heights remain steady at around five feet.
May 5: second swell fills in, up to six feet or so, then drops steadily over next 36 hours.

Central America and Nicaragua Cops the Brunt

After a swell drenching just about everywhere, it was Central America's turn to soak up all that Teahupoo juice. The result? Hit play above.

May 3: forerunners of first swell arrive, swell gradually fills in over 4th and into 5th.
May 5: first swell peaks, around four or five feet at 17-18 secs, as forerunners of second swell arrive.
May 6: second swell fills in, peaks at around five feet, then very gradually decreases over next four days.

SoCal Ends the Run

Santa Cruz made the cut.

Santa Cruz made the cut.

© 2022 - Daniel Gorostieta.

Some great windows of surf, if you knew where to look. While it might not have been as harrowing as the likes of Teahupoo or Nicaragua, it sure was a-ok for the every surfer.

May 3: forerunners of first swell arrive late evening, periods around 22 secs.
May 4: wave heights increase steadily, peaking early on 5th at around four feet.
May 5: forerunners of second swell arrive, mixing with first swell still persisting.
May 6: first swell decreases and second swell begins to dominate.
May 7: second swell peaks at up to five feet, then very gradually decreases over next four days.