How to Find the Best Waves on Any Beach

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Any surfer can luck into the occasional monster wave. If you want to catch the big waves consistently, you need to dig into the science that makes them grow. Here’s everything you need to know to catch the best waves.

1. Fan the Breeze

Ocean waves are caused largely by wind. In fact, that’s why waves on the West Coast are so much better than waves back east. On California beaches, the prevailing wind pushes in the direction of the waves, which makes Pacific ripples more intense. But on the East Coast, the prevailing wind blows against the waves, draining their energy.  

2. Play Fetch

Another reason west coast waves are better? The Pacific Ocean is bigger. Pacific winds cover more distance and, as a result, impart more energy into the water. Surfers and scientists call this phenomenon “fetch.” Not to mention, once a wave gets started, it usually has to travel thousands of miles to reach shore. Those waves will snowball bigger and bigger as they barrel toward the beach.

3. Watch the Weather

There’s a reason diehard surfers never blink at storms. A good tempest will dump plenty of wind energy into the water. Of course, that doesn’t mean you should be out boogie boarding when it’s thundering. A storm that’s brewing thousands of miles away can eventually give local waves a boost.  

4. Hit Rock Bottom

Just as rocks on a riverbed can create whitecaps above, obstructions on the seafloor can make ocean waves bigger by acting like a speed bump. As the waves slow down, all their energy gets compressed vertically—and the crest gets higher. Buy a map of the seafloor and start searching.

5. Study Up!

Good waves aren’t random. Thanks to fetch and the seafloor’s topography, they tend to break in the same place. Consider Mavericks Wave in California, where an unusual rock formation on the seafloor has created a surfing Mecca where the waves tower four stories tall! Good waves have reputations. Don’t be afraid to ask the locals where they are.  

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July 29, 2014 - 9:00am
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