Science, Uncategorized

Waves 101

There are so many places around the world that have incredible swell. Hawaii is famous for its rich surfing history, and waves perfect for longboards. It is also famous for having one of the best breaks in the world, Pipeline. But what causes these amazing waves, and how can places like Mavericks get 15+ meter waves? First you need to understand the processes that create waves.

How are waves made?

Waves are generated by wind. Simple as that. For the perfect surfing conditions, you want to be looking at the wind’s speed and duration that it blows on the wave, and it’s fetch (area the wind affects). If the wind is blowing on a wave faster, and longer, while covering a large area, the wave will be big. But that doesn’t necessarily mean it will be a nice wave to ride, it just means it will be big. Most surfers will know that big waves are great, but there is more to the perfect wave than its size.

What makes the perfect wave?

Each surfer would have their own opinion as to what a perfect wave would look like, but majority would says something along the lines of “a clean, open face, with a steep slope, and of course there needs to be a barrel”. Kelly Slater has created the perfect artificial wave in his Surf Ranch, and is a great example of the “perfect wave”.

What causes a barrel to form?

Reef breaks such as Pipeline in O’ahu and Cloud Break in Fiji, and point breaks such as J-Bay in South Africa and even Snapper Rocks here in Queensland are breaks that get pretty amazing barrels. For those who don’t know, a barrel is when the lip of the wave comes around in front of the wave, creating a hollow tube in the wave for the surfer to ride, and is highly sought after in a wave. Like an iceberg, the wave extends deeper than the oceans surface, and plays a huge role in creating barrels. When the wave hits an obstacle, such as a reef, it slows down under the surface, but the top part of the wave continues to move, causing the lip to spillover in front of the remaining wave, giving you a barrel. This is why reef and point breaks are so popular among surfers, because they give the wave an obstacle, creating a nice barrel for them to enjoy!

Mavericks & Nazare.

These breaks are famous for big waves, and big wave surfers come from all around the world to surf these monsters. Nazare in Portgual has the wold record for biggest wave ever surfed, coming in at 24.2 meters. So why do these locations have massive waves, and others don’t? Winter storms provide the energy for massive waves, along with the right wind conditions, having a snowball effect on the waves. But these areas have another feature in common that causes monster waves, and that is the geographical structure of the seafloor. Nazare has the Nazare canyon, and the sea floor of Mavericks is similar, which creates a gradual ramp from deep to shallow water. These features allow waves to draw energy from the calm waters of either side of the seafloor, creating monster waves that only the bravest will surf.

So there you have it, there is a lot of factors that come into creating waves of all different shapes and sizes! I hope you’ve learnt something from this article, because I sure have! Let me know if you have any questions via the contact page, or you can message me on Instagram @The_BlueScientist!

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