Over the past couple of months, my inner nerd has been researching and reporting on the science behind waves and surfing for the MI OLA blog. With the help of Google, I have covered how waves are made, where and what direction they break, wind conditions, and swell direction. Slow down though…so far I have only nerded out the secrets to how waves are made and where they break. Since I have been a tad Pura Vida in blogging the past month, I am going to try and make it up to you and chat about two surf science topics today: wind conditions and the direction that waves break.
First, since the wind is howling offshore today in Tamarindo, let’s chat about wind conditions: The wind can either make or break your surf session. An easy way to know what direction the wind is blowing is to check the direction that a flag is waving in relation to the ocean and land.
Offshore Wind comes from the land and heads in the direction to the ocean. (Think that that the wind is come off the shore onto the water.) Offshore wind is the best for surfing. It ensures that the waves rolling in are well formed and break cleanly. A quick way to know if is blowing offshore is if you see the “plume” spray from a crashing wave, like in the picture below.
BUT, just like anything in life, too much offshore wind is no bueno. Too strong of an offshore wind makes the wave close faster and the paddle into the wave super difficult. Picture the strong wind pushing you back off of the wave and the spray from the water blowing into your eyes!
Onshore Wind comes from the ocean and onto land. That refreshing breeze from the ocean on a hot summer day? It’s bad for surf conditions. There could be a really nice swell, but a heavy onshore wind can make all the waves crumble and have no shape, making the waves un-surfable. No fun!
Cross shore wind is not desirable either, not giving shape to the waves.
Glassy is when there is little-to-no wind at all, and the ocean looks like a pane of glass. Glassy conditions usually happen early in the morning here in Tamarindo. Glassy conditions are pretty awesome for surfers!
Lefts and Rights:
Next you have to know which way a wave is breaking, because riding straight is not as fun and carving up the face of a wave.
A wave can be either a left or a right, depending on which direction the wave breaks from the point of view of the surfer catching the wave. When a surfer is paddling to catch a wave and the surfer will have to turn left to ride the wave, then this wave is a left. The peak of the wave is on the surfer’s right shoulder as she catches the wave. (From the beach the wave will be seen to breaking to the right, but the surfer’s point of view counts here!) Vice versa for a right.
If you are a regular foot surfer (you surf with your right foot back), going right is your frontside and going left is your backside (because your back is to the wave). For goofy footers it is just the opposite; going left is your frontside and going right is your backside.
Don’t worry if you are just starting out surfing about going left or right; You have to learn how to get up and go straight first before you start doing the fancy stuff…like perfecting the art of wiping out!
A beach break wave can either break left and right at the peak or in just one direction. If it’s breaking both directions, you can often have surfers riding the wave on both sides! Point breaks are either a left or right. Never both. Or, depending on the conditions, the wave could be a closeout and break all at once. Surfers don’t like closeouts because they have no face of the wave to ride.