Much to the delight of many North Floridians, March 21 was the first day of spring. It’s a time of year for opening windows, turning off household temperature regulation systems and spending a lot more time out of doors with your formerly estranged Mother Nature. If you are a luddite, and like to read old-timey thermometers, you’ll see the mercury that measures air and water temps quickly climb upward.
It’s an important time for surfing too. Those of us with colder blood will soon shed our wetsuits entirely and spring-time conditions have us making more decisions than just simply what baggies to wear.
In the spring, the close-forming, north-east wind swells common during the winter become increasingly scarce. While we still see north-east swells in the form groundswells on occasion, typically, spring is a time for wind and more wind. Much of the swell comes from east-southeast wind swells and cold fronts originating in the Gulf. Often, these fronts combine with offshore winds to create some of the East Coast’s most aesthetically pleasing and photogenic waves of any time during the year.
For those of us spending ample time with Father Ocean, spring represents a final opportunity for consistent, quality surf. To go along with all the allergens, there is also desperation in the air, and rightfully so. As each swell fades to flatness, we are reminded of the impending arrival of Lake Atlantic.
Making sure you’re riding the right craft and making good decisions about where to surf can help you get the most out of the spring surf season, thus diluting your summer-time sadness. I recently spoke with local-legend and shaper Mike Whisnant to discuss optimal spring-time wave riding equipment.
North Florida often sees more offshore days in the spring and the waves typically have more flat sections. More surface area touching the water can help cut through howling offshores and connect waves without getting so bogged down in the flat sections. There are several adjustments possible here, but Mike encourages focusing on the outline and contours of the bottom of your favorite sled. Changing the rocker and increasing width on your favorite shape could definitely extend your rides this spring.
If you are looking for new feelings in the water, you may consider a board that incorporates one of several old-school features that are trending in shaping bays across the world right now. Seeing how this may be your last chance to experiment for a while, it may be time to try something new. One of those retro styles that lends itself to small-scale weak surf, is the mini Simmons. These have been around for a long time (their namesake Bob Simmons, was riding them in the early 50’s), but their functionality, as well as stoke-potential, is being rediscovered by a new generation. Most mini simmons mimic a planing hull design with very little rocker, creating more surface area touching the water. This can allow the rider to glide through weak, soft sections of waves. Although they are made to be ridden much smaller than your typical shortboard (as much as a foot shorter), the mini simmons paddles very well and advocates of the shape say they are a pleasure to ride.
However, The Whiz warns not to get too carried away this spring. He has been around the block and seen many of these retro designs come and go (likely for good reasons).
“Although I follow and keep up with trends, they are just that, trends,” Mike said. Instead, he advocates a more progressive approach. “I usually take whatever is happening and just add it to my little bag of tricks. Most of it is stuff that I have used in the past, just modified.”
As for your bag of tricks, you may be thinking ahead to a step-up board for a summer trip. Well, if you find something you like during these waning months of waves, you can use an adjusted version when you travel somewhere with real waves. When people approach Whisnant about a step-up, “they want exactly that, to be able to ride the board that they are use to in better waves,” he said. “So I just add maybe an 1/8” more rocker to the tail and pull the tail in a little and change it to a thumb or rounded pin.”
Now, it may not be appropriate to take Mike’s adjusted step-up approach if you discover the joys of planing hulls or asymmetrics this spring, but you never know, you could be on the cutting edge of a new trend. Whatever gets you in the water…