Surf seasons and when to go
The best time of the year to surf in New South Wales
Temperatures in the mid to high 20’s (degrees Celsius) are common along the NSW coast in summer. Higher temperatures do occur at times, although a regular NE sea breeze tends to prevent things getting too hot for the most part. Temperatures dip into the mid teens in the far south of the state during the winter months, while in the far north of the state, temperatures remain closer to 20 degrees Celsius.
Water temperature ranges from as low as 14-15 degrees in the far south during winter, while the north sees temperatures remain at around 18 degrees. Summer time generally sees temperatures ranging from 21 in the south to 25 in the north. That being said, there can be large drops in water temperature during the summer months, especially along the southern half of the coastline. Sustained periods of winds from the NE can create an upwelling event, with warmer surface water moving away from the coast, allowing colder water to move in from off the continental shelf. This can drop the water temperature in Sydney down to a chilly 16 degrees, even in the peak of summer. The lesson here is to always have some wetsuit protection on hand. This can also be wise given the regularity of blue bottles (Portuguese man of war) in the water during the summer months.
Summer can be plagued by extended periods of small swell, especially along the southern half of the coast. The northern half of the coast tends to do a little better swell wise, thanks to persistent SE trade winds between New Zealand and Fiji. The NE sea breeze is a common feature in summer, which is detrimental to surf quality at most locations. It can however produce sneaky NE wind swells along the southern half of the NSW coast. There can be the occasional large cyclone swell along the northern half of the coast in summer and these are sometimes of benefit to Sydney and areas to the south.
Autumn (Mar-May) – Winter (Jun-Aug)
Autumn and winter is where the NSW coast comes into its’ own. Large southerly groundswells march up the coast from deepening low pressure systems that track from under Tasmania towards New Zealand, while the predominant wind direction is offshore Westerly as the sub-tropical high pressure system moves northwards.
Some of the largest and best swells can be produced by deep low pressure systems that regularly form off the NSW coast in the autumn and winter months. Cold air masses tracking across the Australian Continent can interact with the warm sea surface of the Tasman Sea (between NSW and New Zealand), leading to the rapid formation of deep low pressure systems. These are often referred to as East Coast Lows (ECL). June has the greatest frequency of such systems, so if you are planning a surf trip to this state, this could be your best bet.
Spring doesn’t really stand out for surf, although strong S’ly swells and lows off the coast can still occur. It is however usually a wind down period into summer. Sea breezes also become more pronounced at this time of year.