Adam Wright
(Saturday) 6.12.10

Malibu Point, Malibu, Los Angeles County, California

Malibu Point is another one of Southern California’s best waves…and even though it has been cheesed out again and again by Hollywood…it still manages to captivate most surfers (except maybe the guys that have to battle it in the Malibu line-up day in and day out just to catch a few waves outside of work). Even though it is a total fantasy, many surfers would probably pay an arm and a leg at the thought of getting a pumping, uncrowded, S swell at the ‘bu.

Malibu is a point that is situated about halfway between Point Dume (to the west) and Santa Monica (to the east). Thanks to the path of the Coast Highway it is pretty easy to find…you basically get a great view of it from the highway as you pass the Malibu pier. Well when you can see past all the movie stars…and giant freaking mansions.

The Malibu Point area is actually made up of a couple of State Parks. To the west you have Malibu Lagoon State Park and to the east you have Surfrider State Beach. There are parking lots in either of the state parks but it is generally easier to get to the break if you park in the Surfrider lot.

The wave at Malibu is usually broken up into 3 sections named First Point, Second Point, and (you guessed it) Third Point. On average swells the wave doesn’t quite connect from point to point so the crowd gets spread out through these sections.

Third Point is the actual start of the Malibu wave…the swell wraps into the top of the point and the cobblestones that anchor the break act as a mix of point and reef break. The take-off at Third is a little loosely defined so, depending on the swell/tide/wind, you can shift around sometimes dropping in deeper towards the top of the point or down the line as the wave gets closer to second point.

Second Point is sort of weird mix of a wave…it is basically a section that breaks along part of the point that doesn’t swing smoothly back towards the pier…it actually has a little bit of a bulge that causes it to section a bit faster than the other points. Second Point is much shorter than First or Third but it can get hollow and fast on the right types of swells.

First Point is the final inside section that connects in toward Surfrider beach and the Malibu Pier. The First point section has a very smooth transition and a more natural angle to the shoreline as it hooks back into the bay. It also gets a bit more sand moving out of the Malibu Lagoon…this sand has a tendency to fill in some of the imperfections of the cobbles and smoothes out the wave. First point is generally a longboard spot…particularly when there isn’t a ton of swell in the water. For a longboard wave it is pretty darn good…it sort of looks like it was churned out of a machine…each wave almost the same as the next one.

Getting good surf at Malibu
Despite having a decent swell window Malibu isn’t always that consistent. It takes a lot of juice to force a swell between all the nearshore islands and its exposure to winter energy isn’t that great. You tend to see some sort of wave breaking if you have some S swell in the water, but as it gets smaller most of the rideable surf seems to shift over to first point making an already crowded spot even more crowded.

Here is a map that highlights the open swell windows for Malibu. Make sure to note that the windows are a little broken up with some decent shadowing from a lot of the nearshore islands.

While it breaks on a number of swell directions, sizes, and swell periods…the best swells for Malibu are the big S and SW swells. Those swells have a mostly clear shot through the islands and the S-facing nature of the Malibu Point means that the swell has spend less time refracting its energy around the point to reach the inside sections. Generally it likes long-period energy but as the swell starts to get into the 14-15 second range (and is still showing some decent size) it gets easier for the wave to connect through the three points. You definitely need a big swell for Malibu to start connecting but when it finally does, and you catch a wave from Third through First it will blow your mind…well unless you don’t get burned by 10 guys along the way.

Malibu can pull in a W swell or even a large longer-period WNW…you get some wrap from the channel islands that sort of pulls it around into the Point Dume area, which refracts the swell again in toward Malibu. The more W-WSW a swell gets the bigger it will be at the ‘bu due to the more open swell window. Generally I consider Malibu to be a good spot to check on the bigger W-WNW swells…it will be quite a bit smaller than the W facing beaches but if the period is right it can be fun…it also has bit more protection from the NW winds so it will stay surfable even when it gets too breezy for other, more exposed, breaks.

One last thing on swells…there is a bit of swell shadowing from Cortes Bank…it generally affects the SW swells but the interference is actually on the intermittent side. We actually only see heavy blockage from Cortes when you have both a decent NW windswell and a SW swell in the water at the same time. This seems sort of counter-intuitive because normally swells shouldn’t really affect one another that much (and they generally don’t in open water) but it seems like the combo of shallower water, short-stacked up swell periods from the NW, erode a lot of the long-period SW energy away…effectively blocking it from reaching up into the Santa Monica-Malibu area. This is one of the reasons why you might get skunked on a SW swell…Trestles and Oceanside could be pumping with overhead surf but Malibu might be around waist high. It is frustrating but if you keep in mind the windswell you can plan around it.

Yeah it is freaking crowded…and even more so on big swells. Plan on getting burned, yelled at, and hassled…then when you aren’t you can be pleasantly surprised.

Here is a funny video of the crowds

Spot details:
Best swell direction:
S-W swells (180-270)…but it can take a WNW up to (285) and a SE from around (155-160) as well and still be pretty fun.
Best Wind: moderate N-NE
Sea Floor: Mostly cobblestones with some sand filling in the cracks around First Point.
Best Season: Summer, Hurricane Season
Crowds: Hell yes


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  • Haihaole

    Can you explain why their is interference when you have a SW and NW swell? Otherwise awesome post and website

    • http://www.solspot.com/ Adam Wright

      Haihaole…the short answer to your question is…that while most swells generally pass through one another without really causing any sort of interference, the sea-mounts around Cortes Bank and some of our other nearshore islands, are shallow enough that the energy from both the Southern Hemi swells (the swell directions that would send 99% of the surf into Malibu) and the local windswell start to shoal just enough that some refraction/reflection of the swell mix starts to scatter along different directions.

      For the ‘bu you don’t really need to care much about the steeper NW windswell since almost none of it would ever make it into the point, but since you are counting on the S-SW swell to shoot through the gaps in the islands any tweaking of the swell directions (like when we get this funky combo refraction) would cause at least some of the swell to bend away from the point and likely get absorbed into the local islands.

      The weird part is that a single southern hemi swell with a good swell direction will pass over the shallow spots and make it to the beach with a decent amount of rideable energy. If you throw the short/medium period NW energy into the mix it will knock down the size at Malibu by about 50% of what it would have seen if the Southern Hemi had arrived by itself.

      This isn’t always the case, but why it is a bit selective on when it will affect the region, is mostly because we don’t have the computer modeling power to really track how this energy is behaving as it moves through the different sections. Our (and by that I mean everyone’s) resolution on the swell models just isn’t fine enough to see what the exact makeup of the ‘bad swell-mix’ that causes the issues…as the models get more refined and have a tighter resolution we will gain more insight on the causes and will eventually be able to flag exactly when it will occur and how bad it will affect things as it does.

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