FIRST THINGS FIRST: WHAT'S GOING ON RIGHT NOW?
1. CHECK THE SURF
Visual observations are the absolute BEST way to know what the surf is doing. Check the webcams and local reports. Even better, go look at the beach if it's easily accessible.
2. CHECK THE BUOYS AND LOLA NEARSHORES
You MUST learn how to read these! It is important to differentiate swells and know the difference between varying swell heights, periods, and direction. Often times a long period groundswell will be underlying a dominant local windswell. Be sure to look at the swell Period and Direction on the buoys...not just combined wave height! You will have to be able to decipher waves coming from different sources on the buoy readings (be sure to check the "Swell Only" tab too). Once you know how to pin point the various swells, you can learn which kind of direction and period waves are most favorable for your spot. Local knowledge is KEY in order for you to nail it down and where to go.
"If you were to start from scratch, you need a good amount of knowledge in weather prediction and oceanography. But that's why Surfline has made it easy for te average surfer to learn how to surf forecast themselves."
--Katie Jackson, Surfline's only female forecaster
3. CHECK THE WEATHER AND TIDE REPORT FOR THE REGION
This will help you gauge what the conditions will be doing. It may be clear skies and medium tide now, but will it be howling onshore winds and low tide in the afternoon? Know what the tide and wind trend is for the day. These are two variables that will very strongly affect your session. Every spot is different so know your break. When do the best tides and winds occur for your spot?
NOTE: IF YOU WANT A FORECAST HANDED TO YOU, SIMPLY READ THE WRITTEN FORECASTS.
Article by Katie Jackson, Surfline August 13th 2008