Types of Surfing Waves

Everyone starts out a beginner. The call of the sea and the appeal of surfing waves can attract men and women alike, explaining the immense popularity of surfing as a popular beach activity. Surfing draws both beginners and those who see going along with the flow as part of a lifestyle and a passion that goes beyond casual days out in the sun.

The allure of the ocean is understandable. What can be more exhilarating than rushing up to meet a giant wave, in the face of raw energy and pure natural forces, and then defying that energy by riding along with it, for a moment being one with Mother Nature? It can be quite an addictive feeling.

When one first plans to hit the sea for the waves, it can be intimidating to conquer the elements at their raw form. Most of what is involved includes some understanding of science and the way the natural world works. For instance, the sun plays a major role in surfing, mostly because solar energy is behind the production of wind energy that in turn produces the wave energy surfers are looking out for. If you know how this energy is transformed into surfing waves, then you will be better prepared to know which types of surfing waves can be appropriate for your skill level. There’s no shame in starting out with beginner-level surfing waves, as long as you keep learning to work towards trying the types of surfing waves for professional surfers.

Surf School, Morocco

Surf School, Morocco

Wave energy is created when wind passes by the open ocean, stirring up wave energy and creating a swell. Each of the two main types create varying effects on the waves, so it is important to understand this to get a better understanding of the waves at where you will be surfing.

A groundswell produces great surfing waves, largely because it is produced by strong winds that travel from a farther distance along the open seas. Naturally, bigger storms and stronger winds create more energy for the groundswell. It can even travel from a far distance — even thousands of miles.

Groundswell Waves

Groundswell Waves

On the other hand, a less powerful, weaker form of swell is the wind swell, which is generated by wind that is not as powerful as that which creates the groundswell and is closer to shore. Because it is localized, the wave energy is not as powerful because it does not run as deep as that of the groundswell, which can reach 1,000 feet.

Wind Swell

Wind Swell

There may be instances where both kinds of swells — the ground and wind swells — can reach surf spots at the same time from different and multiple directions.

Now, these swells slow down when they travel from deeper parts of the ocean to shallow water. The wave energy that propels these swells now breaks, and the way it bends horizontally when it breaks is refraction. Because wave energy has now slowed down is now focusing on shallow water, the swell bends, and how it bends may depend on how deep the sea floor is and what kind of landscape the swell bends upon. At surf spots, it is common to spot two types of this refraction phenomenon.

A concave refraction is one where the wave forms a bowl-like shape, with the center of the wave energy peaking around the middle area. This happens when the swell goes over a deeper water area of the sea that has a raised bottom contour. This then causes the wave to bend toward the shore. This concave refraction effect usually generates great kinds of surfing waves.

Concave Refraction Surfing Waves

Concave Refraction Surfing Waves

The other kind of refraction different from the concave refraction is called the convex refraction. As the name suggests, this one is the opposite of the inward-leaning, bowl-like shape of the first. Wave energy in this kind of refraction is spread out over a wider area, creating less powerful waves. The upside though is that it can produce longer rides. The convex refraction effect occurs when swell gets in contact with headland where deeper water is nearby. The wave will bend toward the shoreline, coming away from the deep water.

It is also important to know which kinds of breaks can generate the waves that get surfers running for the sea. There are three types: beach, point, and reef.

What are the differences among the three?

  • Beach breaks
    Beach Breaks

    Beach Breaks

    are the types that break on sandbars. These can be a good and safe choice for beginners, because these kinds of breaks often have a sandy bottom. However, the same kind of sandy bottom means the sand shifts, and so this also means that the size and shape of the waves surfers are riding can also vary greatly, depending on how much the sand shifts.

  • Point breaks
    Point Breaks

    Point Breaks

    produce some of the good kinds of waves that present long rides and great shapes. They are consistent, mostly because the swells — which come from the right direction — will wrap around sections of land coming out from the shore and creating great-looking and best-shaped kinds of waves.

  • For wonderful waves, look out for reef breaks
    Reef Breaks

    Reef Breaks

    These are often more consistent than beach breaks in the shape of the wave and where the peak location is. Reef breaks are those that break on rock or coral.

Finally, it’s time to know the types of surfing waves you can try as a beginner surfer or as one who has more experience riding the rough seas. Every surf spot varies, and there are many conditions and variables that influence the kind of wave you will encounter and what kind of surf experience you will have. For instance, the wind power, currents and the tide can have a great impact on the conditions you will find at your intended surfing location.

There can be about five types of surfing waves you can find at surf spots. These are closeouts, reforms, crumbly, tubing, and double-ups types of surfing waves.

  • Closeouts
    Small Closeout Wave

    Small Closeout Wave

    are those kinds of waves that do not peel but instead break at once. These kinds of waves however may not be all that ideal for surfing because they create a lot of whitewater.

  • Reforms
    Reform Wave

    Reform Wave

    kind of waves may break and “reform” once again as it goes over different kinds of water depth in the ocean. These kinds of waves break, die down, form up again, die down again. Surfers of different skill levels may try their luck with this kind of wave. More skilled, advanced surfers may kick out, depending on the different conditions affecting the wave.

  • Crumbly waves
    Crumbly Waves

    Crumbly Waves

    also called “mushy” waves, do not have as much power as other kinds of waves. These are waves that break gently and are the types of surfing waves ideal for those who are trying out surfing for the first time. Why? Because crumbly waves are not very fast and not very steep. When the bottom contour is more gradual, these crumbly waves are created.

  • Tubing waves
    Tubing Waves

    Tubing Waves

    are the types of surfing waves more suited for the professional, more skilled surfers. It is best for novice surfers to not try their hand at these hollow waves and barrels before they acquire more practice and experience trying their luck on these swells that go through deep water and hit shallow areas. These tubing waves though are much sought after by skilled and professional surfers because of the unique and exhilarating experience it can provide.

  • Finally, double-ups
    Double-ups

    Double-ups

    are another one for the professional surfers — but even those with excellent skills can face difficulties riding these extra powerful waves. These double-ups are created when two waves meet and their crests align. The combined wave energy makes for a tough ride. Novices are advised not to try riding these great ones yet.

Don’t worry if at the beginning this all sounds very foreign to you. It won’t take just one try to understand how the sun’s energy propels wave energy and how this translates into the waves surfers yearn for. It may take days, weeks, months, even years of practice to better get a feel of landscape features, tides and swell direction that can help you figure out your technique for surfing. Just keep practicing and noticing the kinds of waves as you do, using this as a guide. You will most likely encounter periods of trial and error before you figure out the right balance and how to correctly use what you know to your surfing advantage. Do not forget that learning is part of the surfers’ journey; because every surfing experience is unique in its own way, which makes surfing an exhilarating and enjoyable activity, partly because it can be unpredictable. Every time you surf, you are playing with the elements, and encountering Mother Nature at her raw elemental form and display of natural energy. Understanding how this works is also a sign of respect to the natural elements you encounter every time you go out to sea and hit the waves.

Surfing is as much a science as it is an art. With proper understanding comes elegant technique, and with a combination of both you will be able to have a surfing experience you will never forget. It will only leave you wanting more.

Sundown Surfing

Sundown Surfing

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Tags for this post: Ocean, Surfing, Tyoes of Surfing Waves, Waves