Surf Forecasts, Weather Forecasts, Surf Reports and SurfCams
Surf forecasting is the art of predicting surf conditions using a combination of swell, tide, wind, location, weather, beach and bathymetry information. (Bathymetry is the study of the topography of lake and ocean floors). Surf forecasts are used by millions of surfers and surf sports participants every day.
Swells are generated as winds blow across the ocean, and the strength of a swell is determined by the wind speed, wind duration, and the fetch (the distance over which the wind blows).
There are two types of swell. Groundswells are long period swells with a 10-20+ second interval that have travelled thousands of miles to the coast. And windswells are less powerful short period swells formed by local winds.
Groundswells normally produce strong, well-defined waves that are preferable for surfing, whereas windswells produce weaker and choppier waves. Swells are measured using three key attributes. These are the swell height, the swell direction (from which the swell originates), and the period (or interval), which is the time in seconds between successive waves.
But even under a consistent swell, wave quality can vary dramatically from one hour to the next, and from one location to the next (even if the locations are close together). This is due to the impact of local conditions such as tides, winds, and the shape of the ocean floor.
Waves intensify their energy as they reach shallow water, and the ocean floor determines the type of surf break created by those waves. Gradually sloping ocean floors result in slow, crumbling waves (better for longboards), while steep floors result in fast, hollow waves (better for shortboards).
There are three main types of break. The most common, beach breaks, consist of waves breaking over sandbars and sandbanks. Since sandbars tend to move around over time, these beach breaks often lack consistency and predictability.
On the other hand, reef breaks occur when waves break over rock or coral floors. They’re very reliable and consistent, because the reef doesn’t move. And finally, point breaks occur when waves bend and break around a point of land that extends from the coastline. They’re also very reliable and consistent.
Other factors that impact wave quality are winds and tides.
Light wind (or no wind) is preferable for surfing, because strong local winds can cause the surf to become messy and choppy, especially if the wind is onshore (blowing from the ocean towards the shore) or cross-shore (blowing sideways across the surf zone). However, light offshore winds (blowing from the land to the ocean) can actually improve surfing conditions by grooming the face of the waves.
Tides, caused by the gravitational effect of the sun and the moon, are easy to predict in advance. But the impact of tides varies. Some breaks work best on low tide, while others work best on mid or high tide. A break that was perfect at low tide may not break at all during high tide, because the depth of the water becomes too great.
Ultimately, the best way to understand how all these factors will combine to affect a particular surf spot is to spend a considerable amount of time observing, surfing, and experiencing the waves under various swell and weather conditions.
These days, many breaks also feature a surfcam (surf camera) that lets you view the current surf conditions. They also let you see how many surfers are already in the water. Conditions might be perfect, but if the break is too crowded then you still might not catch a wave. Surfcams offer a convenient way to determine whether it's worth the drive to the beach.
To find out more about conditions at your local break, check out the surf forecasts, weather forecasts, surf reports and surfcams below.
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