Southern California is notorious for its crowded lineups, but what if I told you that half of its waves go unridden? After the sun sets, everyone goes home. This makes sense given the fact that waves are nearly impossible to make out in the dark, not to mention that most sharks are nocturnal feeders. But the idea of empty waves at my favorite spots was irresistible, so when last November’s Supermoon aligned with some small, friendly swell, I decided to give night surfing a try.
Wavestorms in tow, a friend and I headed out to County Line after the sun finished its descent through the smoggy Los Angeles sky. Sure enough, the moon was extraordinarily bright, but I hadn’t accounted for the way that its position in the sky would affect visibility. It hung over the eastern horizon instead of the ocean, which fully illuminated the beach while rendering the ocean a black abyss inseparable from the night sky. We paddled out anyway. I squinted hard at the waves, which only became visible when they were a few feet in front of me. I ended up paddling around aimlessly until I happened to land in the right position. When I managed to catch a wave, the face was easy to see. I scored a few good rides. The waves were nothing special, and the pitch-black water was eerie, but the experience of having a popular break all to ourselves made it a session to remember.
Having checked full moon surfing off of my bucket list, I was feeling pretty adventurous. Why stop there? A few weeks later, on a weekend surf excursion to San Diego (the kind where you sleep in the car and live on cheap tacos), I went out for a few more night sessions near the Carlsbad bluffs. This time, I waited until later at night when the moon was higher in the sky. This made the approaching waves much easier to see as the silver moonlight glittered on the water. The best session I had that whole weekend ended up being in the dark.
That sealed the deal: daylight is not always a necessity for good surfing. All you need is a bit of light in the right place, and waves that you can handle without too much trouble.
Other things I’ve learned: You can’t see a thing if it’s foggy, so checking the forecast is a must. Piers are often well-lit and can substitute for the moon when it’s dim. And Lume Cubes might make Jamie O’Brien look great on Instagram, but mine broke the first time I used it (and prevented my eyes from adjusting to the dark).
Overall, night surfing isn’t exactly practical. Besides, the community aspect of surfing is integral. But if the idea of peaceful solitude appeals to you, and you have some guts, the occasional moonlit session can be a rewarding experience.