Waves: When Are They Good For Surfing?

by Joost Nusselder | Last Updated:  08.02.2023
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When you’re surfing, you want to catch a wave that’s just the right size, not too big and not too small. It’s all about finding the sweet spot.

In fluid dynamics, wind waves, or wind-generated waves, are surface waves that occur on the free surface of oceans and seas. They result from the wind blowing over an area of fluid surface. Waves in the oceans can travel thousands of miles before reaching land. Wind waves range in size from small ripples, to waves over 100 ft (30 m) high.

In this article, I’ll explain what makes a wave good for surfing and share some tips on how to find the right wave size for you.

What waves are good for surfing

Surfing 101: All You Need to Know About Waves

What Are Waves?

If you’re not a surfer, you might think all waves are the same. But for those of us who are, we know that waves come in all shapes and sizes, and the conditions of the water can make or break a surf session.

How Do Waves Arrive at My Local Break?

Surfers, here’s the scoop: Waves arrive at your local break due to a combination of factors, such as wind, tide, and swell. All of these elements can affect the size and quality of the waves.

Surfing Terminology

Don’t know your barrels from your beach breaks? No worries! Here’s a quick rundown of some of the most common surfing terms:

  • Barrel: A wave that forms a hollow tube, allowing the surfer to ride inside it.
  • Beach Break: A wave that breaks over a sandy bottom.
  • Swell: A large wave caused by strong winds.
  • Tide: The regular rise and fall of the ocean’s water level.
  • Wind: The air that moves over the ocean’s surface and affects the size and shape of waves.

So What Does All This Mean?

In short, it means that if you want to be a surfer, you need to know your stuff! The conditions of the water can make or break a surf session, so it’s important to understand the factors that affect the size and quality of the waves. Plus, you’ll sound way cooler if you know the lingo. So get out there and start shredding!

Understanding Surf Reports for Beginners

Key Elements of a Surf Report

Surf reports can be intimidating for newbies, but don’t worry – we’ve got you covered! Here’s a quick rundown of the key elements of a surf report and how to tell when an epic swell is coming your way.

  • Swell Size: This is usually measured in feet or meters and is the height of the wave. If the report says 1-3m (3-9ft), then it’s usually a good time to go surfing. Beginners should stick to waves under 1 meter, while experienced surfers can take on waves of incredible height.
  • Swell Period: This is measured in seconds and tells you how long the waves will last. 8 seconds or more is ideal for most places, and you can gauge the duration by looking at how far the wave is breaking out beyond the curl or inside on tube sections.
  • Swell Direction: This tells you where the swell is coming from in degrees/bearing. It’s important to know your local beach and check out weather reports from other beaches to get an idea of how conditions might be elsewhere.
  • Wind Direction: Surf forecasts often display wind direction in degrees/bearing. Glassier conditions (i.e. no wind) are usually best for surfing, but experienced surfers can manage even the worst conditions. Offshore winds (which push waves towards the coast) are ideal, while onshore winds (which push waves away from the coast) are better for aerial manoeuvres.
  • Wind Strength/Speed: The lower the number, the better the wave. Anything below 5km/h (3mph) is usually great, but winds over 30km/h (20mph) can make it tricky. The morning is often the best time to surf because there are fewer winds.
  • Tide: Tides are highly specific to your local break, so you’ll need to learn how tide patterns affect your spot.

How to Spot an Epic Swell

Ready to spot an epic swell? Here’s what you need to know:

  • Look for swell sizes of 1-3m (3-9ft).
  • Aim for swell periods of 8 seconds or more.
  • Check the swell direction and make sure it’s hitting your local beach.
  • Look for winds below 5km/h (3mph).
  • Check the tide and make sure it’s working in your favor.

Once you’ve got all these elements in check, you’re ready to hit the waves! Just remember to stay safe and have fun.

Surfing the Beach Breaks

The Sand-Covered Scoop

Ah, the beach break. It’s like a giant scoop of ice cream, but with sand instead of sprinkles. The sand on the bottom of the ocean shifts around, so the shape and quality of the waves at a beach break can change in the blink of an eye. Some beaches are known for consistently good waves, while others can surprise you with a hidden gem.

Paddling Out is a Piece of Cake

Paddling out at a beach break can be a bit tricky, since there’s not always a clear channel to follow. But don’t worry, it’s still safer than a reef break. Plus, rip currents are usually less intense.

And don’t let anyone tell you that beach breaks are always gentle. They can be just as powerful as a reef break, so be sure to take it easy.

The Perfect Place to Learn

Beach breaks are the perfect place to learn how to surf. Here are a few tips to get you started:

  • Take your time paddling out.
  • Look for a clear channel.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask for help.
  • Have fun!

So what are you waiting for? Grab your board and hit the beach!

Gentle Waves for the Beginner Surfer

What Are Crumbly Waves?

Crumbly waves, also known as mushy waves, are the perfect introduction to surfing. They’re not too steep, fast, or hollow, and break gently, making them a great choice for those who are just starting out.

Where Can You Find Crumbly Waves?

Crumbly waves are everywhere! They’re not as strong or powerful as other waves, so they’re perfect for learning the basics of surfing and trying out tricks.

Why Should You Try Crumbly Waves?

If you’re looking to get into surfing, crumbly waves are the way to go. Here’s why:

  • They’re gentle and easy to handle
  • They’re perfect for learning the basics
  • You can find them almost anywhere

Understanding Point Breaks: What You Need to Know

What is a Point Break?

When the ocean’s waves hit a stretch of land at an angle, rather than straight on, it’s known as a point break. These waves often break around headlands, and can be over sand or rock. The waves created by point breaks are usually longer-lasting than those from beach or reef breaks.

Why Should I Care?

Point breaks are great for surfing, as they produce longer, more consistent waves. If you’re a surfer, you’ll want to keep an eye out for point breaks when you’re scouting for a good spot.

How Can I Find a Point Break?

Finding a point break isn’t too hard. All you need to do is look for a headland, and then check out the waves. If they’re peeling away from the shore, you’ve found yourself a point break!

Surfing Reform Waves: What You Need to Know

What are Reform Waves?

Reform waves are like the wild child of the surfing world. They can be unpredictable, but that’s what makes them so fun! These waves are created when a wave hits a shallow area, and then reforms and breaks again due to the varying depths of the ocean floor. So, if you’re looking for a challenge, reform waves are the way to go!

Who Should Surf Reform Waves?

Reform waves are great for all types of surfers. Experienced surfers can kick out before the wave gets too deep, while beginners can stay close to the shore and enjoy the ride. So, no matter your skill level, you can have a blast on reform waves.

Tips for Surfing Reform Waves

Surfing reform waves can be a bit tricky, so here are a few tips to help you out:

  • Don’t be afraid to take risks! Reform waves can be unpredictable, so don’t be afraid to try something new.
  • Keep an eye out for the wave’s depth. If it starts to get too deep, kick out before it’s too late.
  • Have fun! Reform waves are all about having a good time, so don’t forget to enjoy yourself.

Surfing the Waves of a Rivermouth

What is a Rivermouth Wave?

Rivermouth waves are a rare and magical thing. Think of them like a point break, but with a river dumping sand into a well-defined sandbar, creating waves that peel off in a neat and orderly fashion.

The Best of the Best

The world’s most famous rivermouth wave is Mundaka, located in the Basque Country of northern Spain. On its best days, it’s Europe’s best wave and probably its busiest too.

Surfing for Laymen

Surfing rivermouth waves can be a great experience, but it’s not for the faint of heart. Here are some tips to help you get the most out of your rivermouth surfing experience:

  • Make sure you know the local surf etiquette. Respect the locals and their waves.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask for advice. Experienced surfers can help you make the most of your time in the water.
  • Always wear a leash. You don’t want to be chasing your board down the river!
  • Don’t be afraid to paddle out. Rivermouth waves can be tricky to catch, but with a bit of practice, you’ll be riding them like a pro in no time.
  • Have fun! Surfing rivermouth waves can be a great experience, so enjoy it!

The Power of Double-up Waves

What is a Double-up Wave?

Have you ever seen two waves come together and form a powerful, large wave? That’s what we call a double-up wave! These waves are super strong and ultra-hollow, so they’re best left to the pros or experienced surfers.

Left-hand Wave

When it comes to waves, you need to know which way they’re going. A left-hand wave is one that breaks to the left from the surfer’s point of view. So, if you’re looking for a wave that’ll take you to the left, you know what to look for!

Surfing Tips

If you’re a beginner surfer, here are some tips to help you out:

  • Always check the direction of the wave before you jump in.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask experienced surfers for advice.
  • Wear the right gear to stay safe.
  • Have fun and enjoy the ride!

Exploring the Different Types of Reef Breaks

What is a Reef Break?

A reef break is when the waves break over a rocky bottom. The shape of the seabed is permanent and the line-up changes depending on the size and direction of the swell. Usually, there’s a clear channel next to the line-up for you to paddle out.

Why Reef Breaks are Not for Beginners

Reef breaks are not the best for beginner surfers. The main danger is the reef itself, which is usually just a few feet below the water’s surface. It can be quite scary and can cause nasty injuries if you’re not careful. So, if you’re a beginner, it’s best to stay away from these types of waves.

Also, if you’re surfing in a tropical location, the waves might be breaking over live coral, which can cause nasty cuts if you come into contact with it. So, if you’re surfing in a tropical location, make sure you’re extra careful.

Safety Tips

When surfing reef breaks, it’s important to take safety precautions. Here are some tips to keep in mind:

  • Wear a helmet – Former world champion Tom Carroll wears one, so why not you?
  • Be aware of your surroundings – Keep an eye out for the reef and other potential hazards.
  • Treat any cuts immediately – If you get cut, make sure to treat it right away to avoid infection.Conclusion

When it comes to waves, there’s a perfect size and shape for every surfer. From 1-3m for beginners to epic swells over 10m for pro surfers, there’s something for everyone. For beginners, it’s all about having fun and learning to surf, while experienced surfers take on the biggest waves. With the right wind and tide, you can’t go wrong! So, don’t be afraid to try it out!

Joost Nusselder, the founder of Kauai Surf Report is a content marketer, dad and loves trying out new sports with everything surfing at the heart of his passion, and together with his team he's been creating in-depth blog articles since 2019 to help loyal readers with surfing and water sporting tips.