How to Get Better at Reading Waves

Reading waves is one of the most important skills in surfing. Being able to get waves relies largely on your ability to understand the ocean and how to react to it. It requires a lot of time spent in the water, but knowing certain information about the ocean will help you develop that skill easier as you surf more. Here are some tips on how to get better at reading waves. 


Read the Surf Forecast in Depth

Before we even go out to surf we always want to consider what the best spot will be depending on the swell. Local swell forecasts show the direction, period, and size of swells that are hitting your nearby break. Swells height shows the size of the wave. Larger sized waves are typically ridden by more experienced surfers. If it’s one of your first times out try not to go out during one of the bigger swells, as you won’t have a super rewarding surf (it would be educational though). The swell height that shows up on the forecast will not always be the actual wave size, as it depends on the swell period and on the spot itself. The swell period lists the distance in time between peak to peak on a wave, and shows how much energy is in a swell. Longer interval swells will have much more power located in the wave. Swell direction shows where a swell is coming from. Certain spots work better with certain kinds of swells and tide conditions. Here in Southern California we look forward to big W/NW swells in the winter, for larger and more consistent surf. Using these forecast tips for your nearby spots, you can be able to determine which are the best days to go out, and what kind of waves you can expect.  


Learn to Analyze Wave Shape

The shape of an incoming wave will tell you how you need to position yourself to catch it. When you’re in the water, notice the techniques of more experienced surfers if it’s your first time out. Notice whether they take a long time to paddle into waves or if they have to act quickly. This will give you an idea of how fast the waves are breaking. When going for waves, try to paddle to the peak.This is where the wave is the steepest, allowing you to drop in while also giving you the best chance at priority. Depending on where you are on the wave, you may need to angle your board differently. To catch a wave, you will need to be angled toward the direction the wave is going. If you find yourself too deep while going for a wave, angle your board more than usual and get up quickly to escape the lip. Being in the right spot can happen by chance, or analyzing wave shape and reacting to it accordingly. Beyond being able to read waves, you also need the stamina and endurance to paddle yourself through the lineup and into the right spot. If you find many surfers having priority on the wave over you, then you aren’t close enough to the peak of the wave when it breaks. When the sets are coming, continue to paddle until you’re in a sufficient spot to catch a wave. Instead of paddling for every wave you see, it’s better to reserve your energy for the right one.   


Take Note of Different Conditions

It’s good to know what the best kind of tide is for the spot you’re surfing at, as certain breaks only produce good waves at a particular tide. Try to notice how many set waves there are, and how long the lull is in between. When in the water, be sure to know what direction the current is going. It’s better to surf at the same break consistently as opposed to drifting down the beach. Being able to identify a rip current is also important, as they are useful for getting out the back. Having knowledge and experience of the break you’re surfing will make a huge difference in how easy it will be to read waves. All of this comes with more time out in the water, so be sure to dedicate yourself to getting waves.

Have the Right Equipment 

Reading waves is one thing, catching them is another. If you find yourself in the right spot but are still struggling to get on your feet, make the drop, etc, you’ll likely find it easier if you switch to a South Bay softop. These boards are tested to elevate your surfing and keep you in the water longer. Being able to read waves better comes with experience, so the more you surf the faster you progress to being able to rip. 


Stay stoked

-Phil