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Appreciating The Hydrodynamics Of Surfing

Experienced surfers know that the quality of their waves depends upon more than the weather. There are many factors that come together to produce mild or aggressive waves. With time and experience, you'll begin to notice the shifts in wave quality for different surfing locations around the globe. Some areas experience wild changes in the size and intensity of the waves. Other areas have waves that change very little throughout the year. Many avid surfers spend a lot of time (and money) searching the world for the best waves at any given point during the year. In this article, we'll give you an overview of the things that impact wave size, intensity and behavior. These are the hydrodynamics of surfing.

Surfing The Swells


You already know what swells look like. You can see them on any coastline that you visit. Most surfers prefer the ride the swells rather than normal waves. They're usually created by wind systems that combine with storms which break thousands of miles from the beach. Because the swells are created across a massive area of water and slowly move toward coastlines, their size differs by coastline. Swells are typically bigger on beaches that are surrounded by water (think Hawaii) and low atmospheric pressure systems.

Underneath The Water's Surface


You may notice that waves are shaped differently. While swells are created far from the coast, their shape is due primarily to the underlying seabed. Similar to dry land, the ocean's floor is filled with inclines and declines (along with abrupt topographical changes due to reefs and other objects). As a wave pushes over an incline on the oceans' floor, the wave's top is thrown forward. If a swell rides along a constant slope in the ocean's floor, it can form a peel until the slope ends. When the ocean floor is completely flat with very little variation in depth, the waves and swells are often mild (and boring for many surfers).

Understanding Topography


A lot of surfers have grown accustomed to the varying conditions of popular surfing locations. They understand the changing topography of these areas. In some places, the ocean's floor can experience dramatic changes from week to week. While this can make the size and intensity of the swells unpredictable, it also allows surfers to enjoy a variety of surfing conditions. Many surfers use forecasting tools to follow the swells as they change in different places around the world.

Surfing With The Seasons


Not only are the dynamics of a swell dictated by changes in the ocean's topography, they can also change by season. Winter usually brings more intense swells to coastlines that experience tropical storms. These low-pressure cells mix with high winds to create long-lasting wave durations that slowly build in intensity. Summer can also bring larger swells. Many surfing locations experience cyclones off their coasts that can create unpredictable wave conditions.

The Perpetual Pursuit


Some surfers are content to visit their local beaches when time permits them to do so. They enjoy the swells that nature provides in their area. Other surfers prefer to chase the best surfing conditions around the world. By using technology and tracking tools, they can identify where topographical changes will yield the best waves. Many of these prime surfing conditions only last for a few days. For these surfers, maintaining the flexibility to pursue these conditions becomes a way of life. Surfing and the hydrodynamics that control the swells can lure anyone into its seductive embrace.