Surf Forecasting Basics: Terminology

11 May 2017 0

Photo by Ben McGrath

Photo by Ben McGrath

COASTALWATCH PLUS | FORECASTING TRICKS & TOOLS
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Understanding SURF FORECASTING LANGUAGE

Giving you the tools to find your ideal conditions

We do the hard work for you so you can spend your time surfing the waves, not the web. 
Day off tomorrow and you wanna check out the swell, you’re looking at charts and you see that its 3-4 foot with a southerly swell and 10 second periods. That’s good right? No more guessing, here is a breakdown of some need to know terminology to make sure you never miss that perfect session again. 

Wave Height: The distance between the trough and the crest of the wave. The term is usually used with reference to the forecast offshore swell, at a virtual point located several miles off the coast.

Surf Height: The traditional measure surfers use to describe surf, measured in feet. Note, both the reported and forecast surf-heights do not equate to wave-faces. We lean towards the Hawaiin scale, which means wave-faces can be up to twice the size of the reported/ forecast height.

Significant Wave Height:  The average height of the highest third of the waves in a wave group. Again, exclusively used with reference to offshore seas and swell.

Wave Period: The time it takes for two consecutive waves to pass through a stationary point. Measured in seconds. The general rule is, the longer the wave period, the more powerful the swell. 

Swell Direction: The direction from where the waves are heading (not where they are going). For example, if the swell is south (denoted by S), it means the swell is arriving from the south.

Wind Speed & Direction: Wind speed is often discussed in knots, because 1 knot equates to 1 nautical mile per hour. For reference, one knot is equal to 1.85 km per hour. Wind direction shows you where the wind is coming from (not blowing to).

Chop: Locally generated, short period wind swell. Arises from onshore winds and usually exists in tandem with swell and invariably reduces wave quality, making for lumpier, bumpier surfing conditions.

Tides: You’ve heard the terms ‘high tide’ and ‘low tide’, this is simply the increase and decrease in sea level resulting from the combined gravitational pull of the moon and sun on the Earth's surface.

Neap Tide: When the gravitational pull of the sun and moon are at right angles to the earth the tide becomes smaller than normal.

Spring Tide: Opposite to neap tides, this is when larger than normal tides occur due to the combined gravitation pull of the sun and moon.

These are a couple of essentials, but if surf terminology is your thing then check out the forecasting glossary

EXAMPLE BELOW: How terminology is used in our surf forecast charts

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