Cape Town gets year-round swell from the South Atlantic storm system known as the Roaring Forties, which is one of the most active storm tracks on earth. The summer months, from November to March, generally offer smaller swells that are best at many of the beach breaks around Cape Town. From autumn to spring (April to September), regular cold fronts generate large, consistent surf with the biggest waves usually arriving from mid to late winter (June to August) when these cold fronts slam into Cape Town. This is the best time of the year for surfing the reefs and big wave spots on the Atlantic coast, as well as False Bay.
Cape Town enjoys a Mediterranean climate with hot, dry summers, but don’t be fooled – it gets cold and very wet for a few months of the year. The wind is always a factor, no matter what time of the year, and will determine where you surf most days. An offshore wind blows from the land to the sea and is best for surfing because it makes the wave face smooth and creates ‘clean’ conditions. An onshore wind blows from sea to land and does the opposite, churning up the waves and making conditions choppy.
Summertime winds typically blow from the south to southeast, which is offshore along much of the Atlantic coast. Beware of the Cape Doctor during this time, a nickname given to the southeast wind when it reaches gale force strength and blows for days at a time. Fortunately there are some protected spots that can offer good waves even when the Cape Doctor is out in full force.
Autumn usually sees the lightest winds or ‘glassy’ conditions, when there is no wind at all. This is when the reef breaks on the Atlantic coast start to pump. Wintertime sees the prevailing wind switch between northwest and southwest, which is offshore along most of False Bay. There are still, however, many days with light or favourable wind conditions on the Atlantic coast when many of the big wave spots come alive.
It’s hard to choose the best time of the year for surfing in Cape Town, but April and May are your best bet for good, consistent swell, great weather and favourable wind conditions at a variety of spots on both coastlines.