Learn all the basics about surf reports & how to use them!
In our essential guide to understanding surf reports, we will have a look at each factor you should look out for that goes into making a surf forecast and, more importantly, teach you how to read it accurately.
What Is A Surf Report?
A surf report is a visual representation that predicts what the conditions at your local surf spots are going to be like. These reports are commonly shown in a series of tables and graphs that include features such as:
- Wave height
- Swell period
- Swell direction
- Wind forecast (direction and speed)
- Tide chart
These factors will give you a good idea of what the surf will be like for the upcoming week and are usually easy to work out.
How To Read A Surf Report
Reading a surf report can be confusing and daunting at first, particularly for beginners.
Good surf conditions will generally depend on a lot of different factors, such as what type of break it is, the weather and many others. However, learning to read these numbers is the perfect first step on your way to improving your surfing knowledge.
Surf Forecast Key Factors
The size of the wave is usually measured in feet or meters.
The wave height represents the average size of the waves you should expect. If the surf forecast says 1-3m (3-9ft), then it's usually a good time to go surfing. For beginners, waves 1m and under are recommended just to get you started!
The swell period is the amount of time it takes a wave to pass a certain point.
You can get both short and long periods. Short period swells last for around 1-9 seconds and will usually produce poor quality waves (known as wind swells). Long-period swells will last for 10-20 seconds and usually provide better, more powerful waves, known as ground swells.
Wave height and swell periods usually go hand in hand.
For example, a 3-foot wave at a 5-second swell would be a short period swell when you would be advised to stay at home. However, a 3-foot wave at a 15-second swell would be a perfect long period swell, in which case you would grab your boards and catch the wave!
The swell direction tells you where the swell is coming from in degrees (as on a compass).
The swell direction can also determine the quality of the waves because if the swell doesn't hit your region directly, you won't receive great waves.
Typically, beaches facing west will get bigger and better waves if the swell comes from the west.
Understanding which way the wind blows and the effect that has on surf is worth knowing. It's a useful part of learning how to read a surf report because there will always be wind on the coast.
The wind can ruin the surf conditions if it is blowing in the wrong direction at a high speed. Conversely, when the wind is blowing in the right direction, it can also help out the surfer a lot by doing the work for you!
To be able to read reports on wind direction, First, it is important to know the difference between onshore winds and offshore winds.
- Onshore winds are blown in from the ocean toward the shore. These winds aren’t ideal because they cause choppy waves and therefore, poor surf conditions.
- Offshore winds are blown from the land to the water. These winds create the perfect surfing conditions as the wind makes clean and perfectly shaped waves.
High wind speeds can make swells very unpredictable when the waves are breaking. They also make it harder to stand up which is why wind speed is so important to keep an eye on.
Luckily, reading wind speed can be very straightforward - The lower the number, the more likely a wave will be good. For example, when wind speed is below five kilometres per hour (3mph), the ocean will most likely be good for surf regardless of whether you're going in a particular direction or not. As a general rule, for offshore winds, less than 37km/h (23 mph) is still okay to surf but any stronger than this and it is likely that you will struggle to start.
Surf reports will give you the exact times and levels of both high and low tides each day. A particularly good website for this is magic seaweed as the images are clear and informative.
Each day the tides will increase by just under an hour. For example, If the low tide was at 6:30 a.m. today, then tomorrow, it will likely be around 7:20 a.m.
The best tide for surfing in most cases is a low to medium tide. Remember that low tide on shallow surf makes the waves break higher, leaving less room between the water's surface and ocean bottom which can be dangerous, especially if there are unknown rocks beneath the surface.
By understanding the main six components of surf reports, you will soon become a pro at determining the perfect surfing environment. A popular surf report that will help you learn how to get into the mindset is Magic Seaweed. The reports that Magic Seaweed provide are in-depth and easy to read, are updated daily and can show forecasts up to 16 days in advance. It shows all the information you need all in one, easy to read, chart.
If you’re looking to get out on the waves, why not explore our huge range of wetsuits? Alternatively, check out the rest of our blog for more surfing news and tips!