The one main aspect that makes surfing such a cool sport is the fact that it’s driven by a force of nature – the power of the ocean. For this reason no wave is ever the same, and a large of amount of different variables play a part in determining the the size, shape, and power of a waves.
There is however a finite number of different types of waves that exist based on geomorphology. In this post we explore these different types of waves in more detail and provide relatable examples of each type.
The beach break is not only the most well known, but also the most common type of wave in the surfing world. Like the name suggests this waves breaks on a sandy bottom, and depending on beach gradient, will either break in deeper or shallower water.
Beach breaks have the most variability of the different types of waves that exist due the malleable nature of sand. If a beach break waves breaks in relatively deep water with a flat sand bottom, then the wave will fairly mellow and most likely a good wave for beginner surfers.
If a beach break wave breaks in relatively shallow water with undulating sand banks, it will tend be a more gnarly wave that may even barrel. These waves tend to be very fast and ferocious, and are not for the faint hearted. A good example of this type of wave is Supertubos in Peniche, Portugal. This wave is famous for its unpredictable barrels, and features as a tour stop on the WSL.
This type of wave breaks over a rocky or coral reef. The break of the wave is initiated by the incoming swell moving from deep water to shallow water found over the reef. Due to this often sudden change in water depth, reef breaks can produce very hollow, barreling waves.
The shape of the wave on a reef break, like all waves types, will depend heavily on the tide. A higher tide will usually produce a fuller, flatter wave, and a lower tide a more hollow, barrelling type wave.
Reef breaks are more consistent than beach breaks which means that the take off point only shifts with the tide, rather than with other variables like wind, sandbanks and currents. The downside to this is that reef breaks if crowded can become almost impossible to catch a wave, unless you’re a local or a strong surfer.
The most well known reef break is the Banzai Pipeline in Hawaii. For the last 60 years this wave has attracted top surfers from all over the world, who attempt to tame the beast that is Pipeline. It’s also one of the most dangerous reef breaks in the world, with a few surfers falling victim to its. clutches every year.
This type of wave breaks off a point of headland of rock outcrop in the ocean. Point breaks tend to produce near perfect waves, as the swell hits the point peels gracefully as it makes its way toward the shore.
Depending beach gradient and tide, point breaks will sometimes barrel. Like reef breaks, they also break with more consistency than beach breaks. Point breaks usually produce long rides like Chicama in Peru, famous for being the world’s longest point break in the world.
The most famous, and somewhat iconic point break in the world has to be Jeffrey’s Bay. Made famous by the classic surf film, The Endless Summer, J Bay is as perfect as a right-hand point break can get. The wave has it all, fast sections, barrel sections, and mellow sections for nice, long, laid back turns.
This type of wave is essentially a reef break on steroids. It’s a heavier, thicker reef, which combined with a swell deriving from very deep water can produce gargantuan, heavy waves that often seemingly rise up from almost nowhere.
When thinking of a slab wave, one needs to conjure up in their mind a fat-lipped wave that will swallow up anything that enters its path. Slabs usually attract surfers that are up for a pounding, although some slabs can be more forgiving
The most famous slab break in the world is Teahupoo or “Chopes” as it is more affectionately known. Teahupoo epitomises all the key attributes of a slab break – deep to shallow water, super thick lip, and severe poundings if you don’t make it out the barrel. We’d say it’s best left to the pro’s.