Learning to read surf conditions is essential for beginner surfers, as it helps them know when and where to catch the best waves. Surf conditions can be complex, and the best way to understand them is by using a surf report or forecast. In this blog, we will explain what a surf report is, what to look for in a surf report, and how to interpret the data provided.
What is a surf report?
A surf report is a forecast of the surf conditions at a future date. It is much like a weather forecast, and it helps surfers predict where the best waves will be and when. Surf reports can be accessed through various websites and apps, and they provide valuable information on a range of variables that impact surf conditions.
What to look for in a surf report?
Surf forecasting apps pull data from various sources to build an accurate forecasting system. The following are the major factors that affect the waves you surf:
Swell vs. Wave Height
Swell height refers to the average wave size within a swell, when it is still a long way from shore. Swell height is measured by buoys floating on the ocean’s surface, which record the distance they move up and down on the ocean’s surface as waves move under them, giving an accurate swell height reading. On the other hand, wave height is the size of the breaking wave and refers to the actual wave size that surfers ride. Wave heights are significantly lower than swell heights, meaning they are significantly smaller than the swell out to sea.
Swell direction is where a swell is coming from and is measured using traditional compass points (in the form of degrees). Direction significantly affects wave size because it determines if waves hit a beach directly or have to wrap into a bay or around a headland. When a swell hits directly, the waves will be larger, whereas a swell that comes from an angle and has to wrap around a large headland will dramatically reduce the wave size.
The period of a swell is a crucial factor in wave forecasting. Period means the gaps between the waves. The longer the gap, the more powerful the waves are. Long period swells are created by huge storms in the middle of the ocean and travel crazy long distances to reach the shore. This type of swell may have a period of 12 seconds and above. These long period swells are the most sought after by surfers. On the other hand, a short period swell is a storm created close to shore, often combined with short choppy waves and strong onshore wind. You’ll see swell periods here with numbers below 10.
Wind is the bane of most surfers’ existence, and it is split into three different categories: onshore, offshore, or cross-shore. Onshore wind refers to wind blowing from the ocean towards the land, causing waves to crumble as they break and producing choppy, unpleasant surfing conditions. Offshore or glassy wind conditions are prime for surfing, and when you feel the wind blowing from land towards the ocean, you’re probably in for a good day of surfing (providing there’s swell to match it). Cross-shore or side-shore conditions are when the wind blows directly across the beach from either side, and depending on how strong the wind is, it can still make for really fun surf conditions.
In addition to direction, the strength of the wind is also really important. For example, you can have an onshore wind, but if it’s super light, it’s not going to affect the waves that much.
How to interpret the data provided in a surf report?
To interpret the data provided in a surf report, you need to have a basic understanding of the factors:
Another important factor to consider when reading surf conditions is the tide. The tide is the rise and fall of the sea level caused by gravitational forces from the moon and the sun.
Tides can have a big impact on surf conditions as they affect the depth of the water, which in turn affects the wave’s shape and size.
Here are the basic tide stages and how they affect the surf:
During low tide, the water level is at its lowest point. This can lead to shallow waters, exposing rocks and reefs that are usually submerged at high tide.
This can create some interesting wave shapes and can be great for advanced surfers who are looking for a challenge. However, for beginners, low tide conditions can be dangerous due to the shallow waters and exposed rocks.
Mid tide occurs when the water level is at its average height. This is when you’re most likely to get consistent waves with good shape and size.
This is the ideal tide for most surfers, especially beginners who are still learning to read the conditions and catch waves.
During high tide, the water level is at its highest point, and the waves are usually less powerful and smaller. This can be great for beginners who are still building their skills, but for advanced surfers, high tide conditions can be frustrating due to the lack of power in the waves.
It’s important to check the tide times before heading out to surf, as it can have a significant impact on the surf conditions.
While surf forecasts are great for predicting surf conditions in general, local conditions can vary significantly from beach to beach.
Things like the shape of the coastline, the orientation of the beach, and the presence of offshore reefs and sandbars can all have a big impact on the surf conditions.
It’s important to check out the local conditions before heading out to surf, and to talk to locals who know the area well.
In conclusion, learning to read the surf conditions is an essential skill for any surfer, whether you’re a beginner or an experienced rider.
By understanding factors like swell height, swell direction, swell period, wind direction and strength, tides, and local conditions, you’ll be better equipped to choose the right spot at the right time and maximize your chances of catching great waves.
Remember to always prioritize safety when surfing and never go out in conditions that are beyond your skill level. With practice and experience, you’ll be able to confidently read the surf and take your surfing to the next level!