Important questions before you commit… Questions every gidget needs answered before you suit up, decide which board to wax up and make your way to the beach. So how do you find out, that is, if you are not lucky enough to live on the beachfront and check for yourself? You either A) ask a friend who does OR B) check a surf-report.
When I first started surfing, I was given the tip to check ‘Coastalwatch’ or ‘Swellnet’ and got introduced to a whole new world. I’ve never paid any attention in particular to weather reports and things like wind and swell direction, wave heights, feet, WTF happened to meters? Let me tell you. It is very strange to someone who grew up in a land locked country and is more attuned to reading snow reports than surf reports.
It took me quite a while to actually fully understand what these reports mean. How did I do it? I did it by matching surf reports to what I saw and listening to seasoned surfers and their assessment of the surf which I then used in turn to chat to other surfers about to sound like I knew what I was talking about even though I had no clue – ‘yeah, hope the wind turns too’, ‘yeeaaa totally agree maaaan’, ‘Bondi missed that swell completely’ … ‘yeah na 4ft max and closing out…’
I figured a lot of you new surf gidgets must face the same challenges when you first get confronted with surflingo in the form of surf reports, so I thought I give you a crash course in deciphering surf reports.
There are 3 basic things surf reports usually cover:
- How big is it?
- Where does the swell come from?
- Where does the wind come from?
And then they give you a general assessment of the conditions of the beach you are looking at.
Size matters – How big is it?
Firstly wave size, that’s where the confusion starts already. Different types of measurements…how inconvenient. Some sites measure the wave height from the front i.e. the wave face (looking at the wave from the beach) and some from the back (so if you were sitting in the line-up and look at it from the back). Coastalwatch and Swellnet usually measure from the back whereas Magic Seaweed for examples measures the wave height from the front. So you come up with quite different surfreports e.g. today:
Coastalwatch: 3ft solid
Swellnet: a good 3ft
Magic Seaweed: 5ft
Technically, from the front did make more sense to me at first cos that’s what you look at when you check the surf from the beach and not the back. I did not get the ‘back’ concept for quite a while but got used to by now as most sites use the latter.
A safe bet is to refer to wave heights in relation to the body if you don’t want to come across as a show off or delusional (I swear it was 6ft …yeah, yeah right, it was 3ft max…). So use surfers that are already out there as a benchmark to determine swell size.
Here’s a little cheat sheet for surf report size translations:
|Back of wavee.g. Coastalwatch, Swellnet, Aquabumps, Frothers||Wave facee.g. Magic Seaweed||What it really means and what gear to take?|
|1f||2ft||they are not called ankle biters for nothing, ankle-to-knee high waves (take the mal)|
|2ft||3-4ft||about waist high – mal, fish or good all-rounder short board|
|3ft||5ft||good, fun size, looks about shoulder high from the beach, use all-round short board|
|4-5ft||8ft||head high – yup, getting there – might want to bring the board you don’t mind snapping (5ft = giant head high)|
|6ft||10ft||overhead high – gets into serious scary territory – do you have a gun?|
|8 ft||12ft||Double overhead – you won’t find me out there – where’s my jetski?|
Wave height and size is very relative though. The biggest wave I’ve ever surfed was about 8ft. I was shitting myself but really it was a piece of cake because it was a super gentle, fat wave somewhere in Indo whereas I got absolutely destroyed by superfast, hollow 3ft waves on the same surf trip…Also, I would be hard pressed to go out on a 5ft day in Bondi as it’s likely to close out and not be surfable at all. As any gidget would know, it’s not all about the size, quality is at least as important.
Oh and another one, I had to learn the hard way too, always remember it’s usually bigger than it looks. So many times I’ve paddled out, looking forward to a relaxed, fun session in 3ft surf, only to find out it’s actually 5ft and quite full-on.
Stay tuned for swell and wind directions in part 2 of the surf report 101, oh and then there is the art of forecasting…