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Surfing is rewarding like no other sport out there. Many sacrifices must be made In order to maximize the time in the water. Each surf spot generates unique waves at certain conditions, where the tide, swell and wind are all aligning up and this guide is written to inform how the forecasts work, with explanations and surf forecasts links below.

How to read a surf forecast?

  1. Knowledge of the basics of surf conditions
  2. Check the Report – Current conditions

Which is the best surf weather?

Checking the surf conditions and surf webcams is a routine every keen surfer is familiar with. The swells can be predicted for a good amount of time in front, while the winds can change rather quick and ruin the perfect surf weather.

  • The best surf weather is usually in the mornings, when the wind have not picked up and the ocean is glassy.
  • The right direction swell is also a must for a good surf conditions.
  • No wind, or an low to medium offshore wind is a good sign.
  • Incoming or outcoming tide, depending on the break you are about to surf.

Ultimate Surf Forecast / Reports Guide

Knowledge of how to read the weather forecast is an essential skill to every surfer. As the winds, swells and tides determine the quality of surf a ta certain surf-break – it is crucial to pay attention to each detail.

Knowing how to read the report will also help to plan a weekend surf-trip. Should you travel east or west to catch good surf, or wake up at 5 am to catch the only surfable gap. The more we surf, the more we known that a good conditions will most likely not last long – so make sure to make the most of it.


SWELL

What is a swell?

An ocean swell is a series of waves that propagate along the interface between water and air and thus are often referred to as surface gravity waves, generally created by the strong winds and storms. The direction of the swell will determine the quality of surf at a certain surf spot, since every surf break “works” when the swell hits the coastline at a certain angle.

Groundswell – Waves generated far off the coast.

Wind swell – waves formed from local winds to the specific surf spot.

Direction of swells

Each surf break is unique due to various natural factors. Different tide, incoming swell angle and winds will result in unique conditions. Some spots work only on fairly specific swell angle, while other points work all-year round and with different swell directions.

Usually, if your home surf break is facing 90degrees east, the swell coming from the east has the highest success rate of having a good surf weather. Some surf spots, or point breaks are right behind the corner, and the right direction swell to “hit” the break, is also something to look after.

Swell direction is measured in degrees:

N – Swell moving towards the north. 0 degrees
E – Swell moving towards the east. 90 degrees
S – Swell moving towards the south. 180 degrees
W – Swell that moves towards the west. 270 degrees
NW – northwest. 270 – 360 degrees
NE – northeast. 0 – 90 degrees
SE – southeast. 90 – 180 degrees
SW – southwest. 180 – 270 degrees


Swell Height

The height of the swell is measured by the buoys in the ocean. Most surf forecasts prefer to use imperial over metrical, so the wave height is counted in feet(ft).

Measured from through to crest.

Swell Length

Measured from crest to crest. Length of the wave determines the period.

Swell Period

The period of a swell is the amount of time a wave passes a certain point (usually a buoy). Timely, the swell period is measured in seconds. Good quality surf is usually from 10-20 seconds.

Winds creates the swells in the ocean. Direction of the winds will also determine the movements swells.

Diffraction – Is a change in the intensity and direction of the waves after passing by an obstacle like a big rock, small islet, or landmark.

2 ft @ 10-20 seconds – good quality
2 ft @ 5-10 seconds – nearly flat
5 ft @ 10-20 seconds – epic and large surf
5 ft @ 5-10 seconds – low to average quality surf


WIND

Wind creates swells, and determines the direction where the swells will move to. Wind can increase of decrease the local surf conditions. As winds can change their directions rapidly, it is the hardest factor in surf forecast to rely on.

A strong wind or storm generates a groundswell further back in the ocean, while a local wind can produce a choppy and temporary condition for a surf.

Types of winds

On most surf spots, the mornings are the best time to go for a surf. The weather in the mornings is generally calm, midday is the time when the winds pick up and mix the conditions. Second best time to go for a surf is right before a sunset, when the winds have calmed down.

  • Onshore – An onshore wind is not good for surfing, since it blows the edges off the waves and flattens the surf. A mild onshore wind can have a little effect on the surf, but generally it’s not preferable. Strong onshore winds ruin the surf and make the conditions unsurfable.

Conditions: Choppy, bumpy, ungroomed.

  • Offshore – Wind that blows from the beach towards the ocean. Offshore winds makes the waves more groomed and help to create barrels. A strong offshore winds will make the surf conditions harsh due to the spray from the tips of the waves. A cresting wave will limit your visibility when dropping in.

Conditions: Great, if not too strong.

  • Cross shore winds – Not a preferable wind due to uncertain directional blows. Cross-Shore wind can end up pushing you sideways the beach, which will result in a long walk back to your belongings.
  • No wind – A glassy condition for perfect waves.


TIDE

Tides are controlled by the moon. Every day, there are two low and two high tides. Tides are very predictable, and change by 51 minutes after each day. Tide size difference around the full moon has the largest severity change where high tides are extremely high and low tides extremely low. The worlds highest tides can be found in Canada, with tidal changes in 40 feet.

Tides

  • Outgoing tide – A condition after the high tide, where the water levels are lowering at a beach.
  • Incoming tide – Rising or incoming tide is the period after the low tide until the high tide
  • Low tide – A period, where the tides has the lowest point of water, and will be increasing soon.

Waves on low tide are generally fast and have the tendency to close out.

  • High Tide – Period, where the water levels are the highest, and soon will be decreasing

Waves on high tide are known to be fat, slow and mushy.


Spotting waves

Surfing a beach break can be difficult. It is crucial to find a spot where the quality of waves are the best. How to spot a good sandbar? When the forecast for surf is fine, the waves should be there. Walking down the beach and looking for the best place to jump in and start surfing? Well we all know that the grass is always greener on the other side, so is when surfing a beach break. Make sure you examine the whole beach before jumping in. Take a good minute or two to check out where the surf is more consistent.

A great tip to find the best sand bar is to spot a location on the beach where the water reaches the furthest towards the beach. This shows that the strong currents and waves are pushing the water the shore. If you’ve find a spot, use the rip to paddle in and enjoy.

Finding the surf

Once you know the basics how the conditions affect the surf – it’s a path to get a good quality surf. For example, two surf breaks, maybe a few miles apart from each other – can have totally different surf conditions.


Surf forecast links:

MagicSeaWeed.com

Surfline.com

Coastalwatch.com – Australias surf forecasts


Surf forecast apps:

Most used mobile applications to check the surf forecast.

MagicSeaWeed (MSW)

Surfline

NOAA Buoy and Tide data


Related: Surf Websites