A surf break, the thing surfers obsess over and are willing to travel to the ends of the earth to discover, is simply an obstruction (e.g., sand bank, coral reef, rock reef, cobblestones, headland, etc.) in the ocean that causes ocean wave energy or ‘swell’ to break as a wave – hopefully a rideable one!
As a surfer choosing a surfboard, it is important to understand the character of the waves that are generally created by each surf break type as different boards will work better in different wave types. The character of a breaking wave at each surf break type is generally dictated by ‘refraction,’ which is the dynamic that occurs when swell energy interacts with the shape and contour of ocean floor, or bathymetry. In short, wave energy will slow when it hits shallow water while the rest of the wave, which is in deeper water and therefore travelling faster will wrap and bend towards the slower, shallower part of the wave.
There are three basic surf break types:
Reef breaks occur when swell energy interacts with shallow rocks, coral reef or cobblestones on the ocean floor.
The result for a surfer is larger, faster, more powerful waves. Generally, this means that surfing reef breaks entails more danger to surfers as ocean energy may unload quickly and violently on shallow rocks or coral.
Famous reef breaks include Pipeline on the North Shore of Oahu in Hawaii, Maverick’s in California or Uluwatu in Bali, Indonesia or Macaronis in the Mentawai Islands of Indonesia.
A point break occurs when ocean wave energy interacts with a point of land (i.e., headland) or rocks jutting out from the coastline. Point breaks can have sea bottoms composed of sand, rock, coral or cobblestones.
The character of a point break type wave for a surfer is generally longer, less powerful waves that maintain their speed and size for the length of the ride.
Famous point breaks include Jeffreys Bay (J-Bay) in South Africa, Rincon in California, Barra de la Cruz in Mexico or Snapper Rocks in Australia.
Beach breaks occur when swell energy interacts with shallow sand banks on the ocean floor.
The result for a surfer is that, unlike reef and point breaks, waves at beach breaks are highly variable in size, length of ride and power and may disappear and reappear with sand movement. To be a surfer living in an area of mostly beach breaks, often one has to have a great knowledge of working sand banks in order to get quality waves.
Famous beach breaks include Supertubos in Portugal, Black’s Beach in California, La Graviere in Hossegor, France or Puerto Escondido in Mexico.
Next time you plan to meet a swell somewhere, think about how the swell direction may interact with the beach, reef or point to produce the type of waves you are hoping to ride. And, of course, come visit Benny at CompareSurfboards.com to ensure you’re equipped with the right surfboard for the job!