Learning How to Read and Interpret Surf Forecasts

Learning How to Read and Interpret Surf Forecasts

Interpret tides and swells like a pro

In 2021, there were over 720,000 people who were surfing in Australia. For anyone who has ever been to Australia or lived here, surfing is not just a sport; it's a way of life for many Australians.

Australia’s vast coastline and abundant surf breaks make it the perfect playground for surfers all over the world. However, before even getting into the water, it’s essential to have a proper understanding of surf forecasts.

This is crucial information to consider even before stepping out of the house and going to your favourite surfing spot. No matter their surfing level, any surfer should be able to understand a surf forecast.

What are Surf Forecasts?

It’s important to start with the basics before diving into the specifics of a surf forecast. What is it, and why is it crucial to surfing?

Surf forecasts are the surfer’s indispensable tool because they predict the upcoming condition of the ocean. Ocean conditions affect the wave quality hence the need to understand it.

Surf forecasts contain valuable information like wave height, period, swell direction, wind speed, and even tide data. It’s a comprehensive guide for every surfer.

What are the Components of a Surf Forecast?

Looking at a surf forecast for the first time can be overwhelming. But it helps to break it down into its key components so that it's easier to understand:

  1. Wave Height: The distance between the wave’s crest and the trough is called wave height. It is usually measured in feet, and it indicates the size of the wave that a surfer can expect at the surf spot.
  2. Wave Period: Wave period pertains to the time it takes for two succeeding wave crests to pass a certain point. Any surfer must remember that the longer the periods, the more organised and powerful the swells.
  3. Swell Direction: Swell direction is represented in degrees because it shows where the waves are coming from. It basically indicates compass direction. This is important to understand because it will help identify which surf spots will be affected by incoming swells.
  4. Wind Speed and Direction: Wind drastically affects the quality of the waves. If the wind is coming from the land to the sea (also known as offshore winds), surfers can expect clean and organised waves. On the other hand, the waves can get choppy and messy if the wind is coming from the ocean to the land (a.k.a. onshore winds).
  5. Tide Information: Tides also affect the quality of the waves, and knowing about tide information helps determine the best time to go surfing at a certain spot.


a rough swell at the beach


How to Interpret Surf Forecasts

After understanding the different components of a surf forecast, how can you interpret it? Here’s a breakdown of how to digest the information on surf forecasts:

1.      Check multiple sources.

Make sure to only rely on reputable surf forecasting websites or apps. It’s best to also cross-check that information by going to different sources. There may be a slight variation, so combine this information and create a better picture is essential.

2.      Master the wave height ranges.

Wave height predictions come in ranges; the lower the range the smaller the waves. If the surfer is a beginner, it’s best to check for lower-range wave height. For beginner surfers, look for a non-intimidating, no-fuss surfboard as well.

3.      Take note of the wave period.

Generally speaking, longer wave periods result in better wave quality. For example, when the wave period is longer, the waves are more organised and powerful. These kinds of waves are more enjoyable to ride on.

4.      Look into the swell direction.

Swell direction determines which surf spots will have the most favourable waves. If the surf spot has a direct hit from a swell, it is more likely to have better waves.

5.      Pay attention to wind conditions.

As mentioned earlier, the wind condition – offshore or onshore – has an effect on the type of waves in a certain surf spot. Wind conditions can help you choose the time of day when and the surf spot where you want to have your session.

6.      Consider the tide information.

Be familiar with low and high tide at your favourite surf spot. This will play a significant role in choosing your next surf spot. Some spots have better waves during low tide, while others are the opposite.


surfers looking at waves, great surfing conditions


Check the Surf Conditions at the Beach.

Deciding to go surfing goes beyond just studying the surf forecasts. Once at the beach, it’s important to observe other factors too.

  • Take a few minutes to observe the waves before jumping into the water. Observe the wave size, shape, and consistency. Look for dangerous spots to avoid or any rips and other hazards on the beach.
  • Study the other surfers to gauge the current conditions. There may be experienced surfers struggling or staying closer to shore. This is a sign that there are challenging conditions in the water.
  • Scan the wave break and check if they are closing out quickly or forming rideable faces. If there are clean and open faces, then it means that longer and more enjoyable rides are possible.
  • Check the wind and see if it matches the surf forecast. Look for wind flags and other visual cues like blowing sand or leaves on trees.

It is crucial to understand surf forecasts to ensure a safe surfing session. Make sure to always check it before going out to the beach.

When it comes to your surfing needs, check out Slimes Newcastle.

We offer a wide range of products for any surfer level. From boards to suits, and even accessories, we have a wide range of options available for you.

Shop online or drop by our physical store at 496 King Street, Newcastle, so we can assist you further. For enquiries, call us on 02 4961 3088 or send your email to newcastlestore@slimes.com.au.

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