Wave Conditions

Dangerous Beach Condition Sign

Dangerous Ocean Conditions

The wave conditions at Aliso Beach generally require swimmers and wave riders to be experienced and knowledgeable.  The beach has a slope to it with shallow near shore waters that lend themselves to pounding shore break waves.  Aliso is a wave that at times crashes directly on to the shore with little or no water underneath it.  The waves at this South Laguna Beach spot are influenced by tides, swell direction, swell size, winds, sandbars, the reef on the south end and the river on the north end.  Aliso Beach is best on South and Southwest swells produced in the summer months by storms in the Southern Hemisphere and the Northern Hemisphere in tropical waters off of Cabo San Lucas.

During the south swell season, waves refract off the partially exposed reef at the south end of the beach creating A-Frame waves that serve up incredible rides for skim boarders, body boarders, tray surfers, body surfers and to a lesser extent surfers.  Aliso Beach is not considered a great beach for surfing because of its frequent back breaking barrels close to shore that don’t offer long rides.  It does have its days though and it can be, although not that often, really good for surfing.  At times the collision of the refracting wave with waves heading for the beach bend and twist the wave so violently that you may see a wave do something you have never seen.  This does allow skim boarders, body boarders, tray surfers and body surfers to put on quite a show.  Aliso Beach does break year round and so all of these types of wave enthusiasts are able to take on these beat downs in every month in the calendar year.  The water may get colder in the winter but it does not stop those wave riders that love Aliso from wearing 3 millimeters of wet suit and braving the cold water and mean waves.

Aliso Shore Break

A Sand Beat Down

As you can tell by the sign, OC Parks and lifeguards are doing their parts to warn beachgoers of the dangers that are present in the water at Aliso Beach.  Having frequented this beach for many years, we would say that you could never do too much to inform the public of the dangers that lurk at water’s edge at Aliso.  It is a sloping beach with dangerous shore break conditions that tends to catch people off guard.  This is not a wave you can turn your back on, and while it is never a good idea to turn your back on the ocean while at the beach, Aliso is one of those places that can turn deadly for the average person or child with limited experience in this water.  You should be especially vigilant with your children.  They don’t know what they don’t know and they rely on your watchful eyes to keep them safe.

To say that waves pound the shore at Aliso Beach is an understatement.To illustrate the dangers of Aliso Beach, we wanted you to check out a story.  On June 2nd, 2013, 5 foot waves were pounding the shore.  It was a skim boarders party as it typically is when the waves are breaking close to shore.  A mother was holding her baby at the water’s edge when a wave ripped her daughter from her and pulled her into the turbulent surf.  Skim Boarder Patrick Watson and his son, immediately dove in to the washing machine of shore waters that appeared with set waves pounding the shore.  He dove underneath with low visibility in the water because of the churned up sand and white, frothy water.  He caught a glimpse of something and felt something below.  Thankfully it was the child and he pulled her to safety as she screamed and coughed water up.  He was quoted as saying that it was one of the best sounds he had ever heard.  I can imagine the relief in Patrick, who desperately put himself in harm’s way to make sure this did not end tragically.  I also suspect that a young mother is counting her lucky stars.  While this had the look of the type of dangers that exist in the waters of Aliso Beach and potential tragedy, this story had a happy ending.  It almost didn’t and it would have been heart breaking!   If you are considering taking your family and children to Aliso Beach, please watch this video below by clicking on this link  June 2, 2013 Skim Boarder saves baby.



Aliso Beach Life Guard Tower

Danger Warnings On Lifeguard Tower

Wave Type: Shore Break

Aliso Beach is a shore pound.  Let’s call it what it is.  It can be really good at times but the overwhelming majority of the time it is a closeout wave that is close to shore.  For body boarders, skimmers, tray surfers and body surfers, it isn’t a problem.  Most surfers look at Aliso and measure fun and risk versus reward.  Cracking your board in half on your first wave in a closeout is bad news.  At Aliso, this is entirely possible.  While there isn’t much surfing at Aliso Beach, conditions are sometimes really good for surfing.  It may, however, only be good for surfing a handful of days in a year and you have to be on it to get it good.


Ocean Bottom: Mostly Sand With Scattered Rocks

For the most part, the bottom at Aliso Beach is sand.  Despite its reputation for being a shore pound, hitting the bottom is not that big of deal most of the time.  In the months where runoff is dumped into the Pacific Ocean by Aliso Creek, rocks are carries into the surf zone.  Those you want to watch out for.  The flow from the stream packs the sand bars in on the north end and it can be extremely shallow and produce mutant waves that are thick as they are wide and that pound you into the hard packed sand.  When it is like that, choosing your waves carefully is important.



Wave Size: 3-12 Feet

Waves at Aliso Beach start to get good in the 4-7 foot range.  You can still take on waves above this size but it seems to work the best in this size range.  The quality of the waves is subject to tides, swell direction, swell size, winds, and sand bars.  It could be big with poor shape, medium with good shape and even small with excellent shape.  So many variables affect how waves grace the Aliso Beach Shores.  It is a place you will want to check out.  If you catch it good it will be memorable and may result in Aliso Beach Fever.  We all have it!

Dangerous Wave Aliso Beach

Heavy Aliso Beach Wave Delivering Steep Consequences!

Best Season:  Spring, Summer, Early Fall

Aliso Beach is best on south, southeast and southwest swells as well as combo swells that combine swell energy from both the northern and southern hemispheres. We do get combo swells from the northern hemisphere when tropical hurricanes off Cabo San Lucas combine swell with energy from the Gulf of Alaska.  That combination isn’t prevalent but we do get them from time to time in the late summer and early fall months.  We can even get localized wind swell produced just off shore that combines with energy from hurricanes.  South swells produce better and cleaner waves that make for better rides and any combination swells tend to make conditions nice and peaky.  While all of this means nothing to the average beach goer, it makes a different for wave riders.

Swell Directions:  NW, W, WNW, S, SE SW

Aliso Beach is open to swells from the Northwest, West, West-Northwest, South, Southeast, and Southwest.  The beach typically needs more energy than more open places like Salt Creek and Huntington Beach which are more receptive to swells and energy from the above swell directions to a greater extent.  As you can see, Aliso Beach gets waves from all of the swell directions and they can be enjoyed all year round, spring, summer, fall and winter.

Ideal Winds: Calm, Light And Variables, NE, E, SE

Offshore winds are best for Aliso Beach.  With the placement of the canyon, Santa Ana winds have a tendency to whip through the canyon towards the water unabated.  In the early morning hours, when the water is warmer than land, there is a natural offshore condition that works magically with Aliso waves, feathering the waves back and openning up tubes for great rides.  Aliso Beach does best with calm, easterly or northeasterly winds and to a lesser extent southeasterly winds.  As the land heats up, Aliso Canyon also has a tendency to take the offshore conditions away and blow the surf out.  When there is high pressure and still winds it is not uncommon for the water to have glassy conditions all day long.  When conditions are like that, you hope that wave size and swell direction are good for Aliso that day too!

Best For:  Skim Boarding, Body Boarding, Tray Surfing, Body Surfing

 Tray Surfing

Scotty Carter Tray Surfing

Let’s face it.  Skim Boarding made Aliso Beach famous.  The refracting shore break waves found on the south end of the beach lend themselves to talented skimmers getting tubes and putting on an air show.  Even as wave riders of  different styles, we all find ourselves with mouth wide open and in awe of what these guys and gals do.  They are incredible.

Aliso Beach is also a great body boarding wave.  The sport of body boarding is tailor made for these types of conditions.  You get the refraction off the reef and a side wave that causes peaks to A-Frame  and barrel.  Body boarders love those!  Body boarders have been coming to Aliso Beach for a very long time and it remains a favorite of many of the sport of body boarding decades later.

Tray Surfing is an old sport that has picked up some momentum in South Laguna Beach over the last few years.  It is largely the result of the enthusiasm of Brandon Brown, who with a good friend Matthew Van Deren, added an entirely new arsenal of wave riding tricks using the plastic fast food tray.  They have sampled wave riding vehicles from all of the typical fast food establishments including Jack In The Box, Carl’s JR., Burger King and Taco Bell.  What they pull in the water with a tray is insane and Aliso Beach serves them up opportunities to demonstrate rarely seen maneuvers in the ocean while riding a tray.  If you meet these two dudes, they will utter words and sayings that are a play on the word tray that will have you laughing.

Body Surfing is also good at Aliso Beach.  Because it is a shore break and a barreling wave, body surfers enjoy these waves too.  There aren’t as many body surfers that frequent Aliso Beach as do the Wedge, but it is clearly a wave that body surfers enjoy.


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