West coast boating becomes a little scarce in the Fall. The snow pack has melted and without scheduled releases there isn’t much to kayak, so we start looking at other options. One of my favorite options is surfing Lake Tahoe. We have been chasing waves on Tahoe for years now, and have starting dialing in the best conditions. And sometimes the best conditions for surfing, are the worst conditions for everyone else. Here are some tips for the best days on the lake:
1. Wind speed: Waves that form on a lake are most commonly caused by wind. These are also called wind-driven waves or surface waves. Strong constant winds create larger waves, as opposed to short bursts of wind. On Lake Tahoe we need a continuous wind speed of 15-20 mph with gusts up to 45-60mph.
2. Wind duration: The longer winds gust across open water, the larger the waves will be. We start looking at wind speeds first thing in the morning, but waves don’t start consistently showing up on the lake until afternoon.
3. Fetch: This is the technical term for the distance traveled by wind or waves across open water. The bigger the fetch, the larger the waves. This relates to wind direction. We like to surf the north or the northeast shore of Lake Tahoe, so we want the wind to come from the south or southwest so they have a chance to build up over the almost 20 miles across the lake.
4. Lake Depth: Waves like deeper water and become faster and larger the deeper the lake is. Lucky for us Lake Tahoe is estimated to be 1,644 feet deep, so we can get between 3-7 ft swells.
A couple other things to consider when heading out to any lake to surf is which boat to take. This depends on the type of surfing you plan on doing and the type of waves you have. I prefer to bring my Rockstar 4.0. There is something special about throwing blunt or a back pan am on Lake Tahoe, however I need waves that are a little steeper and faster. This might mean I miss some of waves compared to many friends who prefer to bring an Antix. The longer boats allow you to catch more waves, but aren’t as good for throwing tricks.
Lastly, dress appropriately. I have had my coldest days in my boat surfing Lake Tahoe. The windy conditions usually mean there is a storm coming. I have yet to have a warm sunny day surfing Lake Tahoe and more often then not I am changing in the parking lot with blizzard like conditions. I sometimes wear almost everything I own: IR drysuit, base layer under a thick skin IR union suit, dive hood, and mitts with pogies.
Like always, be safe when surfing the lake. Remember the waves can sometimes crash right onto the shore with 2 inches of water. So bring a friend and have fun!!!
Photo credit: Scott Sady tahoelight.com