How to Read Waves

Knowing how to read waves is crucial for a surfer. Being able to read where the wave will break and anticipate in a constantly changing environment will make you surf more and longer waves. Identifying the right waves becomes easier with experience so keep your eyes on the ocean, and become a student of waves.

Here are 5 tips that will help you how to read waves much earlier:


While you do a short warm up take some time analyzing the waves on offer. Do the waves suit your surfing ability or are they too big, strong, fast or hollow. Where are the easy crumbling waves and where is it best to take off. Do they break consistently in one spot or do you need to paddle constantly to be in the right position. Which direction will give the longest ride, left or right ?


Many spots have a particular tide and swell direction that works best for that location. If the swell comes from the north it is better to surf on high tide, when the swell comes from the south, the best waves are on low tide. It is all dependent on swell direction, tides, wave height and wind. Know what works best for your spot and you will be able to take off on more quality waves.


Watching other surfers can will give you plenty of valuable information. Watch where they line up and take off and pay attention to the boards they ride. A longboarder will line up farther out and catch waves much earlier than a shortboarder. Also take note how they paddle and anticipate for the coming waves. More experienced surfers will always be moving constantly to get in the right position.

Watching others
Watching others


Always keep your eye on the horizon. If you see a lump on the horizon, usually there is a wave coming your way. It pays off to scan the horizon constantly and to be moving left, right, inside, outside to the best take off spot. Waves usually come in patterns (sets) so if you know there is a long lull between sets you could opt for surfing some inside waves. These waves break closer to the shore.


The best take off spot is always as close to the breaking point of the wave, the pocket. If you are too far inside the wave will break on you and you will not be able to stand up. If you are too far on the shoulder of the wave the wave will not carry you as much and you could lose the wave. Find a balance between the two and estimate where this spot X will be.

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