Types of Waves To Surf, Not All Are Created Equal

There are many types of waves to surf and I will try to explain:

  • Types of surf breaks
  • How waves are created
  • Types of waves
  • How wind affects waves

Beach Break – A beach break is where a wave has moved from deep to shallow water over a sandy seabed. Wave shape, size, and peak location at beach breaks can vary significantly from day to day as the sand shifts. These types of wave are the best type of waves for beginners and amateur surfers as they generally break with less force.

Famous beach breaks are: Huntington Beach, and Trestles Beach, both in California, and Bells Beach in Victoria, Australia.

Types of Waves To Surf

Beach break.

Point Break – Point breaks are simply areas where waves break on a section of land that juts out from shore. This is perfect for refining your surfing, as they usually create long rides with open wave faces, perfect for practicing turns and riding down the line. Point breaks are perfect for intermediates who have mastered the bottom turn and can ride on a waves face.

Famous point breaks are: Puerto Escondido in Mexico, Jeffreys Bay in South Africa, Noosa in Queensland, Australia, and Rincon in California.

Types of Waves To Surf

Point break.

Reef Break – Reef breaks are where a wave breaks over a coral reef or rocky seabed. However, depending on the shape of the reef and how quickly the depth of the water changes from deep to shallow they can produce waves of all shapes, sizes and power. Reef breaks normally break hard over shallow water and the hard and often sharp rocks and living reef can be at best intimidating or at worst deadly. This type of wave is normally more suited to intermediate or advanced surfers as they often break quickly with more power than a beach break and in shallower water.

Famous reef breaks include: Pipeline in Hawaii, Uluwatu in Bali, and the very famous Teahupo’o off Tahiti.

Types of Waves To Surf

Reef break.

How Are Waves Created?

Waves are formed due to low pressure weather systems far out in the middle of the ocean. Much like dropping an object into a pool of water, waves spread out in a ripple like motion and can travel for hundreds and thousands of miles before hitting land or shallow water. When swells eventually reach shallow water they slow down and the wave energy is released in the form of breaking waves.

Types of Waves

Types of Waves To Surf

The swell size and direction, as well as the tide, currents, and wind, heavily influence the conditions at every surf spot. Depending on the following variables, several different kinds of waves can be found at a break:

Closeouts: Waves that break all at once instead of peeling are called closeouts. They create a lot of whitewater without a clean wave face, making them not ideal for surfing.

Crumbly: These gently breaking waves are not very steep, fast, or hollow, and are produced when the bottom contour is more gradual. Crumbly waves are also referred to as “mushy” waves, because they don’t contain a great deal of power. The forgiving nature of crumbly waves makes them perfect for beginner surfers.

Reforms: This type of wave will sometimes break and then die down as it hits deeper water before “reforming” or breaking again.

Tubing/Barreling: These hollow waves and barrels are generated when a swell rolls through deep water and then hits a much more shallow area. This type of wave is highly sought after by experienced surfers.

Double-ups: This type of wave arrives when two waves meet and their crests and troughs align. This wave energy combines to create an extra powerful and larger wave. Double-ups can become ultra-hollow and even dangerous when they break.

Blowing In The Wind

When wind is blowing from the land towards the ocean, this is termed an “off-shore” wind. In medium sized surf, surfers prefer the off-shore wind because it makes for a clean, smooth wall for extended carves and holds up the falling lip to make hollow barrels for tube riding.

However, modern surfers have begun to enjoy choppier “onshore” winds as well (wind that is blowing from the ocean to the land) for the abundance of ramps for aerial maneuvers. Chops and bumps and soft whitewater landings are all positives for above the lip maneuvers.

“Cross-winds” usually make for mixed up waves that are difficult to predict and thus make for the least preferable winds.

In Conclusion

As a beginner, you should start surfing at a beach breaks and stick to crumbly waves. As you improve, and if you wish you, can try the other types of breaks.  I personally, enjoy surfing beach breaks and I’ve surfed in all types of conditions.  I prefer very light off-shore winds, in the 4’ – 6’ wave height range and glassy conditions.

Thanks for dropping in and should you have any comments or questions, please post-it in the comment section of this page.

12 thoughts on “Types of Waves To Surf, Not All Are Created Equal

  1. HI!!
    Surfing is something I have always wanted to do! I’m hoping to move to Florida next year! I know there may not be tons of surf places there, I heard cocoa beach is pretty good? Besides I wouldn’t be ready for those super big waves anyway,lol!! I really hope I get the chance some day though! Very cool site! Oh yeah there’s absolutely no surfing up here in the north 🙁 not even a chance!!


    • Hi Krissy, I started surfing in my early 40s and I have never regretted that decision to try.

      Thanks for the comment and dropping in!

  2. I have never tried surfing and honestly I might just be too scared to try lol! But I did not not know there was so much to know when it came to surfing. I just recently moved to California from way up in Vermont (no surfing in Vermont) and I just might give it a shot at some point down here lol!

    Maybe I’ll just do some body surfing…

    • Hi Ryan, You’re in one of the places that is known for surfing and has a large surf industry. Give it a shot.

      Thanks for the comment and dropping in!

  3. Stuart,

    Very informative, especially for people like me who don’t know the first thing about surfing. I liked your images your short paragraphs and your quality content. All of this makes it easy for someone inexperienced like me to read. I especially found the different types of waves you’ve described very interesting. I’ve lived in Hawaii, but never realized all of these different types of waves even existed when I went to the beach. Good job!


  4. I have always wished to do surfing. And I have never gained this much information about waves and surfing from a single post before, this article is filled with so much of information which can lay a good foundation for anyone like me who has no prior knowledge about surfing.

    So, now before any trainer tells me I know that I have to begin at beach breaks with crumbly waves. However, I could imagine that for expert surfers the daunting experience of reef breaks might be really exciting, I would love to get to that level someday.
    Thank you for this amazing post Stuart!

    • Hi Hari, I have never surfed a reef break but I have stuck to my good old beach break and I haven’t felt like I missed out.

      Thanks for the comments and dropping in!

  5. What a great article about all waves not being created equal. I loose waves just came in from four out in the water and never gave the lot to the idea that they were created differently. Your article as well detailed about different breaks: beach, point and reef breaks.

    I have lived around water most of my life. When I was young up, and lived every summer on the shores of lake Erie where my family camped every year. As a young adult and lived along the East Coast and then in Hawaii for several years each. You would have thought I would have known that more about waves.

    They used to enjoy some of the surfing competition so I was familiar with some of the terms you use in your article, but actually learn a great deal of terminology and definitions. Would a wealth of information this article has been. Well done.

  6. I have never surfed a day in my life, however, I do love to learn and I picked up great information on types of waves, and how the wind affects waves and the pictures are beautiful in and of themselves. The ocean is so incredibly magnificent. It must be so exhilarating to ride any of the waves! I am in awe.

    Now I am off to read through your site and pick up as much information as I can. Just a great website!

    Lynn Drew

    • Hi Lynn, The first time I rode and caught a wave, I was hooked. If you ever do decide to try surfing I wrote a page that can tell all about the basics.

      Thanks for the comments and dropping in!

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