How to read the surf charts
7 February, 2022
If you've recently become a keen surfer and you're planning your next surf trip, it's a really good idea to learn how to read surf charts. It'll help you choose the best days and times to go out for a surf and you'll get an understanding of what conditions are best suited to you and the spots you like to surf.
Surf charts are freely available on the internet and forecasts are generally given 18 days in advance. They can be used by anyone heading to the ocean to predict the coastal conditions. We even recommend using them to find out what the surf conditions will be like if you have surf lessons booked with us in our Learn to Surf Middleton programs or Learn to Surf Moana programs.
Surf Charts cover the following information:
1) Wave Height Wave height is the (approximate) average size of waves as you observe from the beach. This is different from the 'Swell Height' which is only about the swell itself from peak to trough and according to time-lapse.
2) Swell Period This is measured in terms of seconds. The sweet spot is around 8 seconds or more, which in some areas is enough for the swell to create momentum. Waves that break at 6 seconds or less may not produce a ridable wave.
3) Swell Direction This indicates where the swell originates from. It helps to know the specifics of what swell directions make the surf break you wish to visit work the best.
4) Wind Direction Wind direction will be indicated in degrees or according to its bearing. You will hear two terms, either 'offshore' or 'onshore' winds. Offshore winds blow away from the beach, and create smooth surfing waves. The surfer who likes to perform aerial maneuvers will want to look for onshore winds.
5) Wind Strength Lower winds usually indicate the waves will be better. Speeds below 10 knots are ideal whereas winds over 20knots may not be worth even getting your toes wet.
6) Tides The tides are essential to good surf. It generally varies from location to location, but tides that are too low may lead to waves closing out. The other extreme could be a tide that is too high and break too close to the shore.
As you can see there are a lot of different factors that contribute to catching great waves. The more you familiarise yourself with these factors, as well as what works best at your local break, the better you can plan your surf trips.
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