Lake Tahoe Surfing
Lake Tahoe, California - It is that time of year, when it is almost too warm for snowboarding but sometimes a little bit too cold for Lake Tahoe Surfing. Yes…lake surfing. People surf in Lake Tahoe. Actual wave surfing on the wind waves that form on windy days.
People surf Lake Tahoe on surfboards (not just those stand-up paddle boards, windsurf boards or kite surf boards, actual surfboards). I do not feel like I am blowing up someone’s secret spot because most of the time the line up is empty. I have never been out at any of the main breaks with more than 2 other people out. Even if every other person in the Tahoe area who owns a surfboard came out at the same time, it wouldn’t get very crowded, there are enough breaks and spots and beaches and with short period wind swell, there are enough rapid- fire waves coming in a set on a stormy day to give everyone a chance to catch a wave.
If there are a lot of people out it is probably August or September when the water is still relatively warm and it isn’t snowing yet. I saw a picture on a blog a couple of years ago where it looked like there were 20 or 30 people out. But I have never seen more than 3. In fact, I actually want more people to come and surf. I get lonely on some less windy days when there are long lulls between sets. When you have someone to talk to, the water feels a lot warmer.
Today was one of those super windy days — maybe too windy for the best possible lake surf conditions. And with the wind came some rain, then sleet, then snow. It was blowing 30 mph and gusting close to 50 mph for much of the day. This meant 3 to 4 foot sets with occasional bigger waves. Lots of chaos, closeouts and general washing machine style sloshing around, but there was a lot of energy in the water and when things decided to line up there were some nice drops to be had, and a few corners here and there. There is a way to tell which wave in a set will be the best, it is more predictable than one would think. The water level is significantly higher than it was last summer, due to the record setting snowfall in the area this past winter.
This means that the lake is on “high tide” and there aren’t as many shallow sandbars to produce surfable waves at some beaches. But if you know where to look the bottom contour is still favorable enough in places to make things happen. I wasn’t able to surf where I intended to go because a boat had crashed into the rocks there and I didn’t want to get in the way of the marine salvage operation that was going on between me and the surf. I went to a nearby beach and was out for about an hour.
When the rain changed to snow, the wind driven ice-crystals were going directly into my eyeballs and I was having a difficult time seeing the approaching sets. Even with a hooded Xcel 5/4, my 3mm boots and gloves just weren’t cutting it and I knew in freezing temperatures and near blizzard conditions, my waves were numbered. I called it and went in much sooner than planned. Last August I used to stay in for 4 hours at a time. In late summer one can surf the lake in a 3/2 with no gloves or boots (or maybe even in boardies, but probably not in a Brazilian bikini). I wanted to shoot some video of my surfing but it didn’t happen today — maybe next time. The sun came later in the afternoon after it stopped snowing. The waves were even bigger and much better organized than they were earlier in the day. I shot some little video clips of the waves, the snow and the boat that had crashed into the rocks and was now tentatively moored on the beach.
Sometime soon I want to post up at a nice beach somewhere on the coast, near the ocean, where I can surf in a 3/2 without boots or gloves, where the waves are good at least a few days a week. My version of good has very low expectations. I learned to surf in Oregon, mostly in bad storms. I grew up in southwest Florida and I never even got to properly surf in Florida until this winter over Christmas break. It was overhead closeouts at my little “home” beach with a water temperature in the low fifties, a 38 degree air temperature, and a longshore current that really wanted me to go to a New Year’ Eve party in Key West. For now I love living in the mountains and snowboarding is still my great passion that decides where I live. The Bay Area and Santa Cruz are still pretty close and have all kinds of surf to discover, but when the wind is blowing and I am home, I am going to surf in Lake Tahoe.
Most of these video clips were shot in the evening after the snowstorm cleared and the winds and waves died down a bit. No surfing in this video, just waves.