Understanding Wave Intensity Classifications

Most beginning surfers have no idea about wave intensity classifications. Instead, they arrive on the beach, observe the swells and run out to enjoy them without understanding what impacts the intensity of those swells. Longtime surfing fanatics, on the other hand, typically have an appreciation for the dynamics that affect the severity of the waves. They may not be able to explain the physics behind the waves' behaviors, but their experience has helped them develop an intuition about the swells. Below, you'll learn about wave intensity, how they're classified and some of the dynamics that affect them.

Looking For The Perfect Wave

Every well-known surfing location experiences different types of waves. These waves can have a variety of intensities, given their tube shape and peel line. If you're new to surfing, you may not understand what those terms are referring to. You probably already know what a wave's tube looks like. The image of a surfer riding within the tube is etched into our memories. The shape of the wave's tube is created by the level of momentum as the water is pushed over the top of the wave. This is usually the result of changes in depth along the ocean's floor.

The wave's peel line is typically considered by its angle. The angle of a wave's peel is driven by the wave's tube speed. A tube that's fast and aggressive will tend to have a peel with a small angle. A slow-moving tube will usually have a peel line with a larger angle.

Tube Shape And Speed

Wave tubes are classified with distinctions about their shape and speed. The shape of the tubes are dictated by a geometric ratio between its width and length. Its speed is measured by the angle of its peel line. Most surfers are familiar with tube shape being represented as square, round, or almond. If a wave's tube is formed like a perfect cylinder, its ratio between width and length is 1:1. If its ratio is less, the tube is considered to be square. If the ratio is between 1-2:1, the tube is round. At more than 2:1, the tube is considered almond (a favorite of many surfers).

As described above, a wave's tube speed is measured by the angle of its peel line. If the peel line is approximately 30 degrees, the tube is considered fast. At 45 degrees, the tube is medium-paced. If the peel line is 60 degrees, the tube is slow.

Locations And Wave Intensity

Various surfing locations around the world have become known specifically by their waves' intensity classifications. For example, G-Land is a favorite surfbreak located at the Bay of Grajagan, East Java (near Bali) with waves classified as fast and square. By contrast, Beach Bells in Australia is known for its medium-paced almond-shaped tubes. Lagundri Bay in Indonesia is a surfbreak that produces fast, almond-shaped tubes and draws scores of surfers to its waters each year.

As surfers become more addicted to their sport, they'll often begin to seek out the wave types that they prefer. Many surfers enjoy the slow, rhythmic pace of waves with wide, square-shaped tubes. Others pursue the faster-paced, angled peel lines of waves found in locations such as Lagundri Bay. Most surfers can enjoy riding the swells without knowing much about wave intensity classifications. But, for surfing aficionados, these classifications help them find the waves they enjoy most.