Different Wave Types For Surfing

wave-typesThe energy contained in ocean waves is immense. Even small surfing waves are capable of lifting thousands of tons of water. The ability to predict what wave types do will lead to better surfing.
Waves are mostly created by wind, but are affected by landscape features, sea floor contours, tides, rainfall, coastal backwash, swell size and direction. Waves are thus a complex mix of meteorological and geological variables.

Here we describe the different wave types for surfing

1) Wind

In low-pressure systems, wind speed is greater and more waves are generated by the power of the gusts. The friction created by these winds helps to form energy waves that travel thousands of miles until they hit coastal areas.

Wind interaction on the surface of the ocean far from the coast can create some of the best waves on earth as the ground wind pushes against the swell, allowing longer, unbreakable waves. Local shore winds can also produce waves, but push in the direction of the waves, making them unstable.

2) Swell

When wave energy travels through the open ocean it becomes a swell. There are two main types of swell:

  • Ground swell is generated by storms and very strong winds over a long distance in the open ocean. This wave energy can reach as deep as one-thousand feet and travel for thousands of miles, producing ideal surfing wave types.


  • Wind swell is created by wind that is more localized and closer to shore and is generally not as powerful as groundswell. Sometimes, surf spots have ground and wind swells from multiple directions simultaneously.


Types of Breaks

As waves make their way through the ocean, they are affected by variances in the ocean floor. When waves come into contact with coastal areas in shallow water conditions, friction resistance causes the swell to lose intensity, energy and power. When waves travel through deep water regions without obstacles, they tend to reach a beach with huge force and a lot of height.

There are three types of breaks that produce waves for surfing:

1. Beach breaks

beach break wave

Beach breaks are wave types that break on sandbars. Wave shape, size, and peak location can vary significantly as the sand shifts, though certain stretches of beach are known to produce consistently good sand banks with waves that tend to be fairly similar character each year. The sandy bottom at these breaks makes them a safer choice for novice surfers, but rip currents are less predictable and often stronger.

2. Reef breaks

Reef breaks are wave types that break on shelves of rock or coral. Reef breaks are much more consistent in terms of wave shape and peak location and can create phenomenal waves. These waves can be unforgiving if you happen to wipe out badly, but they can be the most rewarding in their perfection.

3. Point breaks

point breaks wavesPoint breaks are areas where waves break on a section of land that juts out from shore breaking along and around the land rather than directly towards it. Point breaks have consistently the best-shaped waves and the longest rides.


Types of Waves

Several different kinds of waves can be found at a break

-> Close-outs

Waves that break all at once instead of peeling, they create a lot of white-water without a clean wave face.

-> Crumbly/Mushy

These gently breaking waves are not very steep, fast or hollow and are produced when the bottom contour is more gradual. The forgiving nature of crumbly waves makes them perfect for novice surfers.

-> Reforms

This wave types will sometimes break, then die down as they hit deeper water before breaking again due to varying bottom depth. Advanced surfers may kick out before the wave hits deeper water, leaving the inside reform to less experienced surfers.

-> Tubing

These hollow waves and barrels are generated when a swell rolls through deep water and then hits a much more shallow area. This type of wave is highly sought after by experienced surfers.

-> Double-ups

Created when two waves meet and their crests and troughs align. This wave energy combines to create an extra powerful and much larger wave. Double-ups can become ultra hollow and even dangerous when they break, needing advanced skill to surf safely and well.