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Learn to Surf Theory – Part Two

Beach, Reef and Point Breaks

In our previous post “Learn to Surf Theory – Part One”, we talk very basically about swell and the two ways that swell is formed out to sea. In this post we cover how waves break and the three main types of surf break that you will come across, all of which can differ massively from beach to beach.

How do waves Break

As a swell rolls in towards the coastline and its shallow shores we start to see the swell slowly change shape and form into a breaking wave. Given desirable wind and tidal conditions these waves can then become suitable for ocean goers to ride.

This formation of waves is due to the swell travelling from deep water into shallow water. As the sea bed becomes increasingly steeper (shallower) the closer you get to the shore line, this water or swell has nowhere to go but up, creating the waves we see on the beach. When this body of water is at its steepest peak, it then becomes a breaking wave.

What lies on the sea bed has a massive affect on how the waves break. Below is a simple overview on the three most common types of surf break.

What is Beach Break

One of the most widely found types of surf break and probably what we all think of when referring to or thinking about surfing is a beach break.

The bottom or surface of the sea bed is constantly changing due to under water currents shifting and moving the sand around.  When a build up of sand is formed this creates a shallow area in the sea bed and forces swell to break into waves above.  Surfers refer to this build up of sand as sand banks.

One of the many plus sides of a beach break is the flat friendly sand bottom which often lends itself well to learner, beginner and intermediate surfers looking for a fun surf with no real danger of rocks.

Beach breaks are known to be the least consistent in the way that the waves break due to the sand being able to move around, meaning waves will break or peak in many areas of the beach.  A common phrase that is used when referring to a beach break is “shifty” due to the unpredictable nature of the way that wave breaks.

Famous Beach Break: Fistral Beach, Newquay, Cornwall Famous Beach Break: Fistral Beach, Newquay, Cornwall

What is a Reef Break

Typically this means that the sea bed is made up of various rocks and coral reefs and is known to be more consistent than a beach break due to the immovability of the reef, allowing swell / waves to break in a similar spot or fashion over and over again.  Often these reefs can be covered by shifting sands that can affect the shape of a breaking wave but still usually produces a better quality and more readable wave than of a beach break.

A plus side of surfing a reef break is the predictable nature of how a wave might break, allowing surfers to easily distinguish where to sit when waiting for a wave.

Famous Reef Break: Popoyo, South Nicaragua Famous Reef Break: Popoyo, South Nicaragua

What is a Point Break

A point break refers to an area where swell comes into contact / hits a point of land or large rock that is jutting out from the coastline at a particularly favourable angle.  This “point” of rock or headland interrupts the swells direction of travel and forces it to break into a bay.  Fabled for long leg burning rides point breaks can offer  pealing waves in a predictable area allowing the surfer to almost pick his or her depth of take off or length of ride.

A plus side of point breaks can be the ease of paddle out to the area that a surfer wishes to catch waves, this is due to the bay like nature that this type of break will often be found.

Famous Point Break:  Anchor Point, Morocco Famous Point Break:  Anchor Point, Morocco

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