Understanding the wave

Understanding the wave and conditions of the wave, will make you see better opportunities to surf. The better you’ll get at understanding and reading the waves, the better your surfing will get.

 How does the wave break?

As a swell approaches the coastline and comes into contact with the sea floor the waves will start to slow down. Some of the waves’ energy is lost through contact with the sea floor. The shallower the water becomes the slower they move. And the higher the wave gets.

As the wave moves into increasingly shallow water, the bottom of the wave decreases speed. There comes a point where the top of the wave overtakes it and starts to spill forward — the wave starts to break. And this is where a surfer wants to be!

The wind

Offshore wind is most desirable for creating good waves. The wind blows against the top part of the wave and helps delay the top part from overtaking the bottom part. This results in the waves breaking later than they normally would in calm conditions.


An onshore wind will have the opposite effect. The onshore wind pushes the top of the wave forward causing the wave to break before the normal breaking depth is reached. Waves tend to be lumpier and fail to reach their optimum peak.

The seafloor

Seafloor features are especially important when surfing beach breaks. Surfing a flat beach can be a boring experience. The waves constantly close out, and you can’t get a decent ride. The sea floor needs to have different depths at different points of the wave so waves will peel along their length. Big storms and the action of waves moving sand create sandbars which alter the depth of the beach at certain points. Deeper water will run alongside the shallower sand bar giving the depth difference that a peeling wave needs.[1]


Do you want to learn or improve surfing? Drop by Odysseys Surf School and learn even more about the ocean and surfing, or book your lessons here!

Did you find our article helpful? Did we miss anything, let us know in the comments below!

[1] Source