December’s the first month of the meteorological winter in the Northern Hemisphere, and activity in the Pacific can vary wildly from year to year. How it all plays out hinges on a mash-up of atmospheric factors and climate drivers, the most prominent being La Nina. When we look at North Pacific surf during prior La Nina Decembers, it typically comes in below average. And when good surf does come, it often comes in bunches. Slow spells are common between developing storms with many down days. So whenever the stars do align this month, be sure to capitalize — don’t sit around waiting for a repeat of last winter’s North Pacific Overdrive. The chances of that kind of magic happening again this December are low.

Jump to Your Best Bets: Hawaii | Southern California | Northern-Central California

Pipeline, the spot most often used to measure the fruits of a North Pacific winter. Photo: Billy Watts

Looking back at similar years in our 40-year surf climatology, the data suggests the North Pacific will under-produce this month. The outlook is quintessential La Nina: robust high pressure north of Hawaii drives an active storm track over the northwestern Pacific, with storms descending along the eastern rim of the Gulf of Alaska into the Pacific Northwest. This pattern lends to more approachable surf in Hawaii and along the West Coast north of Point Conception — and slower winter surf in Southern California. (Westerly swell is significantly lower than normal, too, further reducing the odds of scoring healthy surf in SoCal.)

Gallery: North Shore Stuffing

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During La Nina winter, high pressure often blocks storms from getting too close to Hawaii or the West Coast. It typically results in slower surf and fewer solid swells. Image: NOAA

Through the first week of the month, Hawaii gets the largest and stormiest surf, thanks to a cutoff low just north of the Islands. While this isn’t a typical feature of La Nina, we occasionally see storms like this one send a solid northerly swell to the islands. After the opener, though, the long-range charts don’t look particularly fruitful for Hawaii the next few weeks, although there has been a lot of uncertainty. The middle to back half of the month is the period worth keeping a close eye on for notable swell.

Over on the West Coast, a slow start is expected, but the storm track could open up into mid-month. The last two weeks of December typically hold better surf potential than the first two, but it’ll all boil down to the position of high pressure over the central to northeastern Pacific. As of now, the best chance at solid surf comes through the middle of December. It’ll be a game of inches, though. If the storms are pushed too far east by the high pressure, it’ll be small and offshore; a little further west and it’ll be pumping.

Note that deep blue blob dominating the North Pacific in this wave height anomaly chart for early December — that’s the La Nina assocaited high pressure, confirming a slow start.

Meanwhile, below the Earth’s belt, the South Pacific slows but won’t shut down entirely this month. Dominant high pressure near New Zealand keeps the surf minimal in Hawaii for the first half of the month, but more rideable waves should trickle in mid-month. Over on the West Coast, a few SoCal summer spots will squeeze a few fun days out of modest storm activity early this month, then a little something more heading into Christmas. 

Southern California

Santa Barbara | Ventura | North LA | South LA | North OC | South OC | North SD | South SD

  • Slower-than-average surf
  • Slow early, best potential for size the middle to back half of the month
  • Storm track may open up along the West Coast mid-month
  • A few little S swells linger early and late-month
  • Largely favorable conditions; a few notable rainy/onshore days
  • Best Bets for North Pacific surf: 10th-12th, 14th-17th, 22nd-25th, 27th-29th
  • Best Bets for South Pacific surf: 10th-12th, 22nd-24th, 30th-31st 

Read: Premium Forecast Analysis

North Pacific wave height forecast through the middle of December.

Northern and Central California

San Francisco | Pacifica-San Mateo County | Santa Cruz | Monterey | San Luis Obispo County

  • Slower-than-average surf
  • Conditions favorable to start, becoming spotty through mid to late-month
  • Approachable size to start; a couple sizable but sloppy swells the week of the 6th
  • Solid swell possible mid-month, watching the West Coast storm track
  • Best Bets for North Pacific surf: 1st-4th, 9th-11th, 13th-17th, 19th-21st, 22nd-27th, 31st
  • Best Bets for South Pacific surf: 11th-13th, 23rd-25th, 31st

Check: Detailed Surf Forecast

South Pacific wave height forecast through the middle of December.


North Shore | South Shore | Kauai North | North Maui | Upper Westside Maui | Kona

  • Slower-than-average surf
  • Solid northerly swell to start; stronger NW swell potential the second half of the month
  • Stormy conditions to start, typical trade winds, favorable conditions return the second week
  • South Shore struggles for rideable waves
  • Best Bets for North Pacific surf: 3rd-7th, 16th-18th, 20th-22nd, 24th-26th, 29th-31st

Read: Detailed Forecast Analysis

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