Brett Simpson, staying on his toes and adapting to the countless variables. Photo: Fostor

It’s difficult to know exactly what tide, swell direction, and winds will bring a peak to life. Many of us wander blindly through our local breaks, ocassionaly scoring decent waves when we should be getting more out of every swell. To get us on track, we spoke to Huntington Beach’s own Brett Simpson about the ins and outs of dialing in a lineup.

Know the Tides: When you're trying to wire a spot, it's imperative that you put a premium on knowing exactly how the different tides can affect the break. "The tides are definitely one of the bigger things that you have to be aware of when you're really getting to know a spot," says Brett. "They can completely change the face of the break. In just a few hours, you can go from surfing an inside bank on the shore to an out-the-back sandbar. Find out how the tides change up a break and you’re already on the right path."

Take Notes: When you come in from an all-time session, don’t just chalk it up to dumb luck, take note of exactly what went into producing it. For Brett, who understands the inner workings of his hometown lineups in Huntington Beach better than anyone, the key to dialing a spot lay in the little details. "At home, for instance I know that north swells usually push out to sea. But recently we also had a few swells that acted a little differently because there was an inside sandbar that needed just the right tide and swell to make it work," recalls Brett. "When it all came together, it fired. But if the tide or swell were too big, it would miss the sandbar and wouldn't work. You have to know how everything fits together, to know when you’ll have the best chance to get it good."

Do as the Locals Do: There's no amount of analysis that can make up for a lifetime spent in a lineup. "This is a no-brainer," says Brett. "Every time I'm out at Sunset and Myles Padaca or Pancho Sullivan are out, I keep my eye on their every move. Those kinds of guys have built reputations on that wave and are some of the best out there. If you can, watch how the best locals approach the wave and try to pick up a few things. You'll learn a lot that way."

Know More than the Forecast: With an Internet connection, you can now get a fix on swells, buoy reports, and weather forecasts at a moment’s notice. But when it comes to surfing in your own backyard, there’s no substitute for getting your own eyes on the lineup. "A lot of the forecasting sites are usually pretty spot-on, but there's no substitute for actually checking it yourself," says Brett. "There are always little variables with the winds and the period of the swell. So it's always nice to see it with your own eyes and work from there."

Learn From Your Mistakes: Sometimes there's no better teacher than a bad wipeout. According to Brett, the quickest way to learn just how shallow an inside section gets on low tide is to make contact with it. "Honestly, sometimes it's good to learn things the hard way. If you make a bad mistake in the water once, you probably won't make it again."

Nature Knows Best: "With so many variables coming into play at every break, dialing in a peak can be a lifelong pursuit. It doesn’t matter how much time you’ve spent surfing a certain wave, you’re always are bound to have a shocker or get smacked down now and then,” says Brett. “As an example, with a wave like Sunset, you have to put yourself in such critical spots to get the good ones that you risk getting cleaned up. Knowing the ins and outs there are crucial, but there’s still no telling what can happen out there though. Sometimes, Mother Nature has her own plans.”

Click here for more tips from the How-To Blog.