Lower Trestles in San Clemente, Calif., is one of the biggest breeding grounds of professional surfers in the U.S. and is home to numerous current and former Championship Tour surfers. Some of the current men's CT surfers who call the famous wave home include Kolohe Andino, Jordy Smith, Keanu Asing and Filipe Toledo.
According to the Encyclopedia of Surfing, the location was named for the pair of wooden train trestles that surfers had to walk under to get to the water's edge. There are a handful of breaks in the veritable wave sanctuary, but Lowers is widely considered the best of the bunch.
The beach, formerly controlled by the U.S. Marines based in Camp Pendleton, was off limits to the public until 1971. However, more than a few courageous surfers risked the danger of being caught for the reward of a few rides on the iconic wave long before the land was opened.
The wave is beautiful in the sense that it caters to everything. -- Biolos
Since opening to the public, the wave has been a proving ground and competition venue for elite and amateur surfers, as well as for the National Scholastic Surfing Association (NSSA). Though the location is known for having the ability to produce consistent surf in a variety of conditions, understanding the nuances of swell direction and tide can help surfers make the most of the break amid a talented, aggressive crowd.
Lost Surfboards' Matt "Mayhem" Biolos, an elite shaper and local surfer, knows Lowers' intricate nuances as well as any pro.
"The best swell direction is definitely a South," he said. "[But] too much South, like those Southeasterly hurricane swells. That's not good because it makes the right break right over the shelf. "Southern Hemisphere swell is the best, it works best on a mid- to incoming tide. Basically any light wind is good, [except if it's from the] South.
"In general, however, it has so many faces to the casual surfer, that's why it's always so crowded because it always looks good. There's definitely a time when you combine swell and tide that there are a lot of different faces to it and it can be really difficult when choosing [a wave] if the conditions are even a little off."
Surfline's Best Conditions
Swell Height: 4-10' Faces
Swell Direction: Southwest, South-Southwest S-SW
Swell Period: Long
Wind Direction: E-NE
Tide: Mid Tide
Bottom: Cobbleston Reef
The right is the main attraction at Lowers, though some surfers have been known to scoop big points going left. The cobblestone (rock) bottom makes for clean and consistent waves on most tides.
"The wind and the tide affect it throughout the day," Biolos said. "All the guys are sitting in the competitors' area and trying to figure out how many good lefts were in that last heat? How many good rights where in that last heat? Is it the midsize ones that are holding up?
"Especially at low tide you want the ones that come off the cobblestones so you don't get those bumps in the face. That way you don't have to worry about racing the section, but more so s-turning. But sometimes those surfers with really high abilities, like Filipe or Kolohe, can get 9's and don't need a set wave."
With so many nuances to the conditions, picking a lineup is key to maximizing priority over competitors in a heat. With the wave close to the shore, using land markers is a helpful technique that both locals and elite employ to up their wave counts.
I use a specific method, where I triangulate my spot. -- Biolos
"I use a specific method where I take something on the beach and another object on the freeway to sort of triangulate my spot," Biolos said. "Being an older surfer I can't be like the younger guys and sprint over to any breaking wave. But most of the local guys, and local pros, they all have lineups."
Insider Tip: As a cobblestone break, the rocks at Trestles are often covered with algae and other ocean-bred flora below the surface, making for a slippery walk to the lineup. One trick the pros use is to wax the top of their feet to scrape off algae, preventing a slippery takeoff.
Lower Trestles is beloved for its versatility, among other things. It can be a canvas for powerful rail surfing, but when the walls get steep, look for the pros to fly above the lip. Lakey Peterson earned her maneuver of the year award with this air-reverse at the 2014 Swatch Women's Pro.
"The wave is beautiful in the sense that it caters to everything," added Biolos. "Depending on wind, like the early morning off-shores, it becomes a powerful carving wave. If you look back at this event a lot of traditional power surfers have performed well, look at Luke Egan and Richie Lovitz. But when there's a little wind out the back you get the crumble section and it turns into an air park. However, Lowers lends itself to rail surfing, you have to be full rail-turning out there, you're not always going to get an air section."
With wave heights ranging from chest-high to overhead, plus the speed and steepness of the wave shifting over the daily tides, it's equally important to develop a quiver ready for various conditions. Nobody knows that better than Biolos.
Have the confidence to surf it like it's a Baby Bells Beach. -- Biolos
"If you're in between swells you're gonna want to grind up," he said. "A little wider tail, wider-shaped board with a relaxed rocker. You're not going to want to slide out when you're connecting bigger turns so something that just connects the dots. You need a little bit more carry to the board, but it can't be like a full-on groveler where you're going to slide out.
"You have to have the confidence to surf it like a Baby Bells Beach. Usually in the CT event, because they have the 10-day window and it's in such a great time of year, you're almost always going to be surfing head-high waves and they're riding pretty much high-performance, good wave, surfboards. If anything, most of the shapers around the world have relaxed their rockers for this event."
Don't miss the world's best surfers take to the water for the Hurley Pro and Swatch Women's Pro at Lowers Trestles beginning September 7 LIVE on the World Surf League and WSL App.