Discussing Types of Waves

Understanding the types of waves is important when analyzing and talking about famous surfing locations.  Waves originate deep in the ocean when low pressure systems create storms, which in turn generates wind. The longer wind blows on waves, the larger the initiating waves.  This is called the duration of waves.  The speed of the wind also affect wave size.  The final element is fetch, which is the area being affected by the wind.

Each storm even creates a combination of the three.  There is a maximum wave height that can be reached for each combination.  When this is reached, the seas and waves are called “fully formed.”  The waves created by each event vary by size and speed.  The wave periods, which are the times between each wave crest.

As waves travel farther from their wind source, the larger waves begin to group together.  When they have traveled out of the influence of the originating wind, they become ground swells, which are then ridden by the surfers.

The ocean floor affects the type of wave as it travels toward land. A swell from the deep sea floor transitioning to the beach or reef will have big, barreling waves.  If the waves travel or cross a long, shallow ledge, the waves slow down. Bathymetry measures the water depth.

When waves break close to the shore in shallow water, it is called dumpy shore break or shorebreak.

The combination of location, weather, and water conditions create the perfect waves.  Clearly some geographical areas are more likely to have he perfect wave.


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