How to read waves for surfing – How to extend your wave count

When you’re surfing, the waves that come off the shore are called “waves.” The size, shape and speed of these waves is determined by a number of factors, including the wind and temperature.

Understanding waves can help you surf better and avoid getting caught in dangerous situations. In this article, the author James Nedock will help you know more about how to read waves for surfing and how to extend your wave count.

How to read waves for surfing - How to extend your wave count

How to read waves for surfing – How to extend your wave count

How to read waves for surfing?

How to read waves for surfing?

How to read waves for surfing?

The activity of surfing comprises of functional, expressive, and transitional maneuvers that involve rapid cycles of knee, hip, and trunk flexion followed by explosive extension. Functional maneuvers are required to be able to successfully surf, whereas expressive and transitional maneuvers require a higher level of skill and are critical to competitive success.


So, how do you read a wave? Observe the horizon line from your surfboard; once you have located a prominent lump, determine its peak! The wave should then begin breaking at that location.

  • Compare the horizon with the wave’s line.
  • The steepest angle of the wave is its inevitable outcome, and that’s where you should aim to surf.
  • If neither facet presents a distinct angle, then the wave will most likely terminate.

Once you have realized and assessed the current, how do you catch it?

  • Once you’ve identified the apex, speed is of the essence. It would be best to get there before the formation starts to rise, but don’t forget to be careful when paddling close to other people.
  • If you missed the best place to start, your best bet is to be near the top of the wave, ideally within its curling (pocket) area.
  • When you get to the takeoff, turn your surfboard so that it is facing the beach, and turn yourself so that you are close to where the wave is breaking.

A wave’s several components

Peak: A wave’s highest point. This is where the wave starts to break. To read and predict how a wave will break, you need to find its peak.

Lip: The part of a breaking wave that looks like it is “pitching” from above. The lip of a wave is where a lot of its power is.

Shoulder: The part of the wave that hasn’t broken yet is called the face. Surfers ride the wave from where it is breaking to where it isn’t breaking.

Curl: It is the part of the shoulder that is hollow and is often very steep. It is also called the pocket. This is the part of the wave where surfers do all those cool moves you see in surf videos. People often compare this part of the wave to a skateboarding ramp to help you picture it.

Impact zone: Here is where the wave crashes into the calm water. This is where the wave is the strongest, so you should stay away from here. When surfing or paddling, it can be bad to get caught in the “impact zone.”

Whitewater: The part of the wave that has already reached the shore. When a wave breaks, it makes a ridge of foam, which is also called “whitewater.” This is the part of the wave where beginners can learn the basics and take their first steps on a surfboard.

Tube: Some waves break in a way that looks like a cylinder. This lets surfers ride inside the curve of the wave. It is one of the most sought-after things in surfing. It is also called a barrel. “Getting barreled” or “tube riding” is what people say when they surf inside a tube.

Understanding wave quality

Assessing the quality of a surfer’s wave is an essential facet that sets surfing apart from many other activities and allows for both industry and personal perspectives to be considered.

Surfers generally prefer a wave that is neither too large nor too small. And whose contours are discernible yet don’t present any insurmountable challenges when coupled with many linking maneuvers.

Each wave will boast a diverse blend of attributes that surfers consider essential to experience. These aspects are weighed against one another as they are perceived differently by each person out there in the water.

  • Wave shape
  • Wave height

When the wave height, and consequently wave steepness (i.e. the ratio of wave height to wave length) increase, the water surface profile deviates from a sinusoidal wave shape.


  • Wave forms and peaks
  • How the wave breaks
  • Potential to perform maneuvers

Differences between right- and left-hand waves

Differences between right- and left-hand waves

Differences between right- and left-hand waves

Left-hand wave

Alternatively, a left break is simply a wave that peels to the left from the vantage point of the surfer riding it. When viewed from land, this may appear as breaking to one’s right—an enigma!

If you follow this advice, it’s important to make sure you know which way the waves are coming from because surfers face them from the shore. Thus, when one rides a left-hander these days, they will always be heading to the left. This explains why we refer to these swells as ‘lefts’.

Right-hand wave

On a right-hander, the surfer rides the wave to his right, which would appear to be breaking to the left to those watching from the shore.

A-frame wave

Alternating split peaks offer both left- and right-handers on either side of their peak, creating an even angle for each. If surfers are on the point when the wave starts to break, they can choose which one to ride, as long as two surfers try to ride it in different directions.

Closeout wave

This is a singular wave that, once it reaches its apex, firmly closes in on itself and can neither be ridden forward nor backward. The creaturely shape of the surf’s crest renders it nearly parallel to the skyline; an imposing sight indeed!

Shoulder line and peeling speed

As you prepare to catch a wave, it is essential that you keep an eye on the peak. By looking at this marker, you can figure out how big the next wave will be, which will help you paddle and surf better.

Observe the angle of one of the shoulders on the wave. If there is a steep incline on one side, chances are you will experience optimal surf conditions during your session. Conversely, if it appears that none exist, don’t despair; this likely indicates an imminent closeout!

By observing the angle of the shoulder line, we can expect how fast a wave will peel. For beginners and intermediates, look for an angle that matches your skill level. If it flattens out quickly, it’s a good bet that you’ll be peeling faster.

If you’re just starting out, it might be tempting to choose the steeper angle, which gives you more time to keep your eyes on the shoulder. But advanced surfers may choose a faster path to gain more speed and start an advanced maneuver.

Tips for reading and catching a wave

Tips for reading and catching a wave

Tips for reading and catching a wave

  • The wave will break more slowly where the shoulder is steeper. So, if you want to ride a wave faster, go for the straighter angle. If you don’t have enough experience yet, go for the shoulders that are steeper because they give you more time to follow the wave before it closes out.
  • If you are too close to the peak or too far inside when the wave is breaking, you won’t be able to stand up and it will break on you.
  • If you are on the shoulder, too far from the peak, the wave won’t be able to carry you as far.
  • If you don’t want to get caught by a certain wave, the safest place to be is behind it in deep water.

How to extend your wave count?

How to extend your wave count?

How to extend your wave count?

Keeping an eye on the horizon is a critical tactic for maximizing catches during surf sessions or finding the best spots to enjoy them. It may be beneficial to relax, reposition, or even approach the ocean’s edge before analyzing any oncoming waves. Surfers fight for line-up locations before they arrive, anticipating their strength and direction.

It’s crucial to take time to think about a wave before choosing it. When each set comes with identical intervals between waves, be aware of the time since the last one and predict when a new set may appear.

If the ten- or twelve-minute waves remain, observe them for eight minutes and then start paddling gently, checking for clues. If you identify a chance early on, like a wave before its peak moment, changing your position on the board and speeding up will help you succeed.

If you can stay focused and watch for the first signs of a wave, you’ll be ahead of less experienced surfers who are still sitting on their boards. Since you’ll be closer to the crest, you’ll be able to ride more waves.

Before being put in an unfavorable lineup spot, the surfer gets a little time to lie down on their surfboard, modify their stance, and paddle faster.

By fine-tuning your paddling technique, you can quickly alter to the appropriate gear when facing a new set of waves. This approach not only boosts efficiency but also ensures that you’re always in position when it’s time for action! Through applying this strategy, one may maximize the chances of being out on deck during ideal conditions.

FAQs How to read waves for surfing

How are waves measured by surfers?

When photographed, surfers’ crouched levels are calculated using large images of colossal waves and their known heights. This gives a similar scale for figuring out the overall height from trough to peak.

What size waves are ideal for surfing?

Generally, beginning surfers should stick with an area of one to two feet. Intermediate surfers who want to improve their skills should choose a range between 2 and 4 feet. By paying attention to the “swell period,” which is a better predictor of wave size, this will provide you with lots of opportunity to improve your technique.

What kinds of waves are too large for newbies?

In general, the smaller your surfboard shall be—say, 1.5–2 feet in size (occasionally exceeding 3 feet if you’re up to it).


So, as you can see, understanding waves for surfing is essential for taking your surfing to the next level. In this article, has covered everything from how to read waves to the key factors that determine their size, shape and speed. Stay tuned for more tips and tricks on how to read waves for surfing in the future!.

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