How a Champion Surfer Preps for El Niño

The Pacific is still in the high 60s in November.

That warm water, the highest in recorded history, means one thing to surfers: this year’s El Niño could be bigger than 1997, the year of Mavericks.

There were no iPhones then. No GoPros. No drones. Of all the heavenly tubes that were caught, all the terrifying slams that were survived, very few were recorded for posterity.

Imagine the carnage we’ll be watching this time around.

Kelly Slater Surfs El Niño3:09

Attn. every man with a surfboard and a prayer: luck favors the prepared.

So we asked Jordy Smith, who took the Hurley Pro last year at Trestles, Billabong Pro in Rio de Janeiro the year before, and once won gold at the X-Games with this killer rodeo flip, how you should get your mind and body right and your quiver stocked ahead of the swell of the decade.


Jordy is most fired up about Santa Barbara and Rincon Point: “That’s a really nice righthand point break.” But if you need a day trip, Malibu isn’t blocked by Catalina and the water is cleaner there (more rains mean more runoff closer to town).

He checks Surfline, Buoyweather and WindGURU for forecasts and reports. Then, “I’ll make my own decisions about what the swell will do or what the weather will do.”


“I’d stock up on wetsuits,” says Jordy. Going north means colder, harsher water. Old standbys RipCurl and O’Neill make fair-priced performance suits that break in fast. Get a 5/4, 4/3, and a 3/2. If you want something that’ll last forever, there’s no equal to Matuse. Patagonia’s booties have good grip and keep your flippers warm. Matuse also makes excellent hoods and gloves.


“You’ll go through your surfboards pretty quickly,” says Jordy. “I’d stock up. They’ll get broken because of the surf we’ll be having.”

The waves will be bigger, so you also need to step up your board. Jordy explains that “for California, for me, it’d range from a 6’2½” to a 6’8″. I’m 6’3″ and weigh 205 pounds so probably one of heaviest surfers. Most are in the 5’8″ and 5’9″ range, quite small.”

Have one step-up board, and if you surf a lot, five back-ups. “I have five key ones to keep me going.”

Jordy Smith: Welcome to California4:27


Your diet comes first. “When you’re surfing, you can’t go out and have a huge lunch. You can’t have a steak and expect to go ride a surfboard — you’ll barf it up,” Jordy says. “I go with small snacking throughout the whole day to keep my energy up. Granola bars. Apples. Bananas. Nuts. Avocados. That keeps me ready to fire at all times.”

Do calisthenics before getting in the water rather than static stretching. “I find that stretching weakens you before you go out,” he says. “I just try to activate my muscles a bit with simple exercises. No back bends and twists or anything like that. Just get the heart rate up and ready to fire. It’s all about strengthening and lengthening. Try and strengthen before and lengthen after.”

“At all times, be conscious about what you’re doing. Don’t overuse your body.”


Made-in-America’s Pendleton makes thick, hearty blankets and towels that will come in handy as soon as you’re out of the water.

The Filson dry bag not only keeps all your valuables dry, it’s also great post-surf for carting wet gear so it won’t soak your trunk. Mildew’s a bitch.

Rains rain jackets (seen above in green) are good for watching the waves in a rainstorm.

General Admission’s tees and hoodies will keep you toasty (last two above), and Outerknown’s puffy jackets are great for leaving the beach in the evening. 

Indoek’s wax kit keeps that sticky bar concealed and comes with a nifty built-in scraper.

And if you don’t have one already, get a GoPro. The El Niño of ‘16 will be worth capturing on camera.

All the above (bar Ketums) is available at General Admission in Venice

Main image from Surfer Mag