a large wave with a surfer sitting on his board

How does wave formation and oceanography impact surfing conditions?

Ever wondered how quality waves are formed?

Oceanography is the scientific study of the oceans and all their aspects. But do oceanography and wave formation impact surfing conditions?

The impacts of wave formation and oceanography on surfing conditions

National Geographic said that surfing is associated with warm beaches like what we have here in Australia. However, the concept of surfing goes beyond just warm beaches.

This is because surfing, at its core, is simple and can be done in any place. All one needs are a board and motivation in order to break a wave.

Waves are a crucial aspect of surfing, and wave formation surely has an impact on surfing conditions.

Wave formation and surfing conditions

Basically, any wave is created by wind. The wind is usually from an offshore storm that blows on the surface of the ocean. This process then creates ripples on the surface which are essentially the waves.

Anyone should note that the strength and duration of the wind can affect the size of the waves. The longer and stronger the wind, the larger the ripples or the waves become.

The size of the wave also depends on the speed of wind that generates it. Obviously, a certain wind speed will equally create a certain wave size.

The phrase, “The seas are fully formed,” may be familiar. This happens when the largest waves that can be generated by the wind speed have been formed.

Waves have different speeds and wave periods:

  • Longer-period waves = faster-moving waves
  • Shorter period waves = slower waves

Longer period waves also tend to move farther ahead than slower waves. Once the waves travel further down the sea and away from the wind source, they start to organise into swell lines.

These swell lines are sometimes referred to as “wave trains,” and they usually hit the shore all at the same time. Ground swells, which are considered “gold dust” by surfers, are waves that are not affected by the wind that generated them.

Factors that affect swell size

When it comes to surfing, anyone just needs to take note of the following factors that affect wave size:

  1. Wind Speed – Larger waves require stronger wind speeds.
  2. Wind Duration – Larger waves need longer wind blows.
  3. Fetch – The more area affected by the wind, the larger the wave will become.

But how about when it comes to wave size at distinct surf breaks? There are also other factors that need to be considered, like the following:

  • Ocean Floor – If the wave is coming from deep in the ocean, then expect it to be a big and barrelling wave. On the other hand, if the wave is coming from a shallow ledge, it’s slow and will not have as much energy to it.
  • Swell Direction
  • Tide

Oceanography and its impact on surfing conditions

Any serious surfer pays close attention to the details surrounding the ocean they’re surfing on. Some questions that may pop up are, “How many waves are there in a set” or “How often are the waves coming in?” But most importantly, they want to know which one is the most quality wave.

Oceanography plays a key role in answering all these questions. No knowledgeable surfer will just jump on a wave without observing it first. Oceanography is interdisciplinary, and one of the most crucial components is meteorology or the study of the weather. When it comes to meteorological components that impact surfing conditions, a surfer should take note of these four aspects.

Atmospheric pressure

A surfer should always watch out for a low-pressure system. This is the most relevant detail when it comes to the development of waves for surfing. Simply put, the low-pressure area is an air cell that has a lower pressure than its surroundings. It travels across different oceans all around the world, leading to wave generation. The waves are created from the frictional drag of the low-pressure area on the surface of the water.

If that part was too technical, you only need to remember that the faster the air moves, the more it drags on the water, which will then create bigger waves.

Water temperature

Beaches in Australia are generally warm, but they can still get cold depending on the season and your location. When it comes to surfing in cold weather, it’s best to choose a high-performance steamer board from Rip Curl to get best movement and performance in cold conditions.

Before getting into the water, make sure to check the weather charts and forecast to ensure that you’re prepared for the water temperature. In some areas, the temperature on land may be higher than at sea.


Some may say that tides are more a physical oceanography variable than a weather concern. In any case, tides should be considered when checking for surfing conditions.

There are two common ways in which tide can affect surfing:

  • Shallower water during low tide creates hollow, low tide waves.
  • Big waves where the peak is much closer to the shore often occur during high tide.

So, depending on the type of wave you’re looking for, see to it that you’ve checked the tide level before going out to sea.


Yes, rain definitely has an impact on surfing conditions for obvious reasons. When there is heavy rain, the upper wind gets dragged with it. This will then cause a series of strong winds at the head of the shower. This specific situation can be a deal breaker for you when you’re out surfing. It’s also important to note that if you’re surfing in an overly populated area, consider waiting at least 72 hours after heavy rainfall before returning to the sea again.  Most of the time, the sea is polluted with trash, human and animal waste, plastics, and other debris after heavy rains.

Be prepared for any surfing conditions. Shop for the perfect surfing essentials at Slimes Newcastle.

The best way to enjoy a surfing session is by being prepared and checking the weather condition. But apart from that, it’s also important to come prepared with the proper suit and equipment.

Slimes Newcastle is your one-stop shop for your surfing needs. You can visit our physical store at 496 King St, Newcastle NSW or check our catalogue in the comfort of your home by browsing our site. Need more info? Drop us a line on (02) 4961 3088 or send an email to newcastlestore@slimes.com.au.

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