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San Elijo's Reef and Surf

The Reef:

There is a diversity of terrain under the water at Pipes. From large boulders in the line up to soft sand, this lineup seems to capture it all. A lot of the terrain differs from season to season. In our Summer cycle, the beach is almost all sand with little to no rocks in the water. Because the sand is brought in, it fills in the little holes and reefs that usually are exposed in Winter time. In the Winter season, much more of the reefs and rocks are exposed and while sand will still be present, the rocks are much more noticeable.

The reefs are nothing to be scared of, they consist of large rocks that are all mostly rounded and smooth on the edges. Some rocks have barnacles growing on them which can cause a cut or two on your feet but for the most part, the reefs at San Elijo are fairly subtle and calm.

There is one aspect that I'd like to note. After or during larger sized swells, the inside section of San Elijo can create a sort of canyon about half way out in the water. While walking in the water on your way out to the outside, there can often be holes or small drop offs that you can easily fall into.

About 2 years ago I was out with a buddy surfing San Elijo and sure enough I was walking out in the shallow portion of the water and fell about 3 feet into a hole that had been dug out by a larger swell a few days earlier. I didn't get hurt but it did manage to make me jump right back out of there! These holes or canyons shouldn't be considered dangerous but caution should be taken while walking out, just lean on your board in case you fall into on. That way you can just transfer weight and not fall all the way like I did.

The Surf:

Best Tide: Low to Medium

Best Swell Directing: West and Northwest swells are fun and usually very clean but a South swell can also provide for a very fun day of surf at Pipes

Best Winds: No wind is best but if any, a East wind will do wonders.

Best Size: Anywhere from 2 - 8 feet. At around 8 feet, the waves begin to close out and it becomes near impossible to get a decent ride.

Best Months to Catch it Going Off: Because of the direction of this spot, it's surfable year around but best in the Winter months.


The surf at San Elijo can vary depending on swell direction, conditions and size, however I have found through many years of surfing that on smaller days, knee to chest high, the San Elijo breaks can be a blast! There are often small walls with rampy shoulders that offer a playground for fun on small days.

A beautiful and fun day of surf!
Labor Day, 2005

On bigger days, the outer reefs begin to work and can create some awesome A-Frame waves with some long and fun walls! I have had some awesome waves at these reefs and while other breaks may be crowded beyond belief, the San Elijo breaks may be almost empty with some awesome waves.

I recommend watching the breaks from the parking lot to find the best looking peak before paddling out. I often find myself paddling out and then paddling back and forth from peak to peak following the better looking waves. The few times I remember to watch before paddling out, i usually find myself having a better session.

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