Wave Dynamics: A Brief Introduction on Types of Waves

Surfing is a rush, and nothing beats catching a wave. You’re sailing, steering, flying. It’s bliss on another level.

There are many types of waves in the ocean, all with their own unique identities. Surf Outfitter give us a brief introduction on the types of waves that, as a surfer, you can catch. It’s useful information for anyone, but particularly for the amateur surfer, who will eventually know this information like clockwork.

There are three main types of breaks. All waves generally fall into one of three: beach break, reef break, and point break.

Photo source: coastalwatch.com
  1. Beach break:

    These waves are formed on the sandy beach and vary depending on how the sand shifts. The swell of energy connects with the sand and produces a wave that varies in power and length of ride. It’s dependent on the movement of the sand, which requires a strong knowledge of the banks to know when you’ll get a quality wave.   A few well-known beach breaks are Playa Hermosa in Costa Rica, La Graviere in Hossegor, France, and Supertubos in Portugal.

  1. Reef break:

    These waves break on rock and coral on the ocean bed, and are more consistent in the size of the wave. Waves can be larger and more powerful because the power of the energy produced from the swell and rocks, and/or reef, can unload violently on the shallow rocks of the reef. Waves can also unload quickly, which is dangerous if you’re a novice surfer and not expecting it. Advanced surfers have been known to like reef breaks because of the large wave that is produced. Well-known reef breaks include Pipeline on the North Shore of Oahu in Hawaii and the Mentawai islands of Indonesia.

  1. Point break:

    Even for a beginner, this term might be familiar because of the famous Keanu Reeves film from the early 90s. This wave is formed when swell energy interacts with a point of land that juts out from the coast. Ocean beds for point breaks can be with sand, coral, rock or cobblestones. Point break waves are safer, in that they maintain their energy and size, and they characteristically create long waves that last for a while. Point breaks are popular because they allow surfers to ride out a less powerful wave for a long period of time. Famous point breaks include Snapper Rocks in Australia, Rincon in California, and Barra de la Cruz in Mexico.

There are a number of different waves resulting from these breaks. Let’s start with the wildest and most difficult first: the double up.

A double up is when two separate waves align at their crests and troughs. This energy can create a massive and powerful wave. It does hollow out easily and is therefore very dangerous. Yet, they have been known to produce once-in-a-lifetime experiences because of this characteristic. Ride at your own risk. Because they hollow out easily, they can be difficult to control even for the most experienced surfers.

Tubes/Hollow waves are a type of wave created when the water pitches over the surfer so that the surfer is enclosed in the space between the water. It is an experience sought out by many. The surfer is enclosed in a small space, and the only way out is through the opening in front of the surfer. These waves first move through deep water, and then finish out in shallow water. Tropical reefs are popular for producing quality hollow waves because of their position near the Pacific Ocean, which produces powerful swells.

Reform waves are waves that first go through deep water before reforming back into a swell. It is a whitewater wave with much less power than double ups and tubing waves. Reforms can be found at Second Reef Pipeline in Hawaii, for example, and Huntington Beach, California.

Also called “mushy” waves, a crumbly is a good wave for a beginner. They are safe to wipeout on because the contour along the bottom is more gradual. Crumbly waves are also more forgiving because their speed is not as fast, and they aren’t as hollow or steep as other waves tend to be.

Closeouts are waves that break before they peel. They create whitewater and can’t be surfed.

So, next time you’re out surfing, especially for the beginner who is developing his or her skills for the sport, you can better determine what types of waves the ocean is producing.

This piece was originally published at surfoutfitter.com


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