ocean currents in malibu beach

With the big winter surf, here is some info on currents. Hope it helps!

Currents are your friends. Get to know them and embrace them.

Why, you may ask?

1) They spread the crowd out.
2) They make the waves good by changing the contour of the sand, making beach breaks “peaky.”
3) They are what shaped our point breaks. They eroded the coast and spread out the cobble-stones nice and even at spots like Rincon, Malibu Surfrider and Trestles.
4) When you have to paddle against one in order to get back into position (and you will have to at some point), you get a good workout and strengthen your paddling muscles.
5) They make you pay attention to where you are in the line-up. Currents will push you out of the line-up to the places where you can’t catch waves. So guess what...pay attention.
6) They spread the crowd out...oops, did I say that already?

There are two primary currents you need to be on the lookout for:

Long-shore currents -- These are currents that follow the contour of the shore. At beach breaks they simply push “up” the beach or “down” the beach. The direction they're going depends on the direction that the swell or waves are coming from. As a rule of thumb, summer time south swells cause the long-shore current to push to the north. Winter time west and north-west swell push to the south. Strong westerly winds (SoCal’s prevailing wind), like the ones we experience in the springtime, and the wind waves that go along with them will also whip up a nice southbound long-shore current.

At point-breaks the longshore current generally flows from the top of the point (furthest out spot) to the bottom of the point, ie, down the point. The only place in the world that I have surfed where the current flows “up” the point is at Punta Roca in La Libertad, El Salvador. This makes it hard to stay in position, but it really helps the waves to barrel!

**Whichever beach you are at, before you jump in the water, check which direction the long-shore current is going and adjust your entry point and paddle-out to compensate for the current.

Rip-currents -- Mostly found at beach breaks, these notorious currents form when waves push a bunch of water onto the shore. This water has to go somewhere so it forms something of a river flowing back out past the waves into deeper water. This mini-river pulls sand, seaweed, surfers and unsuspecting swimmers out through the impact zone and out past the breaking waves. To spot the rip-currents, look for rippled/textured, sandy water going through and past the breaking waves. Sometimes it is very subtle, but sometimes rips are so strong that lifeguards will not let swimmers enter the water. To most surfers, rips are not dangerous because we can swim and have boards to easily paddle away from them. We need to know about them because they can make the waves break weird right around the rip or pull us out well beyond the breaking waves, making them difficult to catch.

Hint: if you are a good swimmer and competent surfer, jump right in the rip-current to paddle out. It will suck you right out past the breaking waves. Once outside, paddle left or right to get out of it and find your spot.

If a surfer, body-boarder or swimmer is stuck in a rip-current and needs to get out of it, they simply swim/paddle/kick in a direction directly parallel to the beach. A good sign that someone is in trouble, or will be in trouble very soon, is if you see them in the rip-current trying to swim straight to shore. This is like trying to swim up a river. It doesn’t work and they will get tired.

There is no current that will pull you under the water. Rip-currents will not pull you under. People die in rip-currents because they panic, get tired and drown if the lifeguards or other surfers aren’t there to rescue them. Be an aware surfer and help people out of a rip-current if you see them struggling to get to the beach.