Do I really know how to do a Surf Check?
Have you ever looked at the surf before deciding to jump in, thinking you’ve done an accurate “surf check”, only to realize once you are out there that you’ve severely underestimated the conditions?
You then spend the next half hour or so “tea bagging” out the back trying to figure out how that happened and more importantly how on earth you will make it safely back to land without getting smashed or seen doing the “paddle of shame.”
I’m certain that everyone has been in that situation more than once. Not only is it an unbelievably scary feeling but it can also have a major impact on your self-confidence and deter you from getting back out there again. All of this angst and anxiety can be prevented by learning what to look for when doing a “surf check.”
There are THREE indicators that you should be using to determine, firstly, if the conditions are suitable for your skill level / surf experience and secondly, to determine what kind of conditions we need to prepare our body and mind for. These include:
1. WAVES: Checking the wave size is a simple one and probably the most obvious. The size of the wave will tell us how much water is being pushed onto the beach. The bigger the wave is, the more water is being pushed into the shore. The amount of water moving to shore will need to return to sea, creating rips and currents. Therefore, it is safe to say that the bigger the wave the bigger and more intense the rips and currents will become.
2. TIDE: As most surfers know there are ‘high’ and ‘low’ tides, normally rotating around every 6hrs. Tide is extremely relevant when analysing conditions as it will have an impact on the type of waves that are present. A ‘high tide’ wave is fuller and tends to roll into the shore providing a mountain like shape and allowing us to ride down the ‘green face’ all the way to the beach. In contrast, a ‘low tide’ wave is also referred to as a ‘barrelling’ or ‘dumping’ wave that has a steeper face. This is because as water moves towards the beach it hits the shallow sand bank, stands up and hollows out. This type of wave are great for advanced surfers as they have developed the skills to turn into the wave and position themselves to get “barrelled.” On the flip side a beginner tends to travel straight down the wave and will end up going straight over the vertical drop causing them to nose dive. When doing a surf check you want to look for a mid to high tide or high to mid tide. Look for the ‘tide line,’ this is where the water has come up to its highest point on the beach. If the water is far away from the ‘tide line’ then it’s likely to be a lower tide. If the water is at the ‘tide line’ or you can’t see a ‘tide line,’ then the water is at its highest.
3. WIND: Checking the wind direction is the third indicator of conditions. Wind can be ‘on shore’ ‘off shore’ or ‘cross shore’ resulting in either messy or clean surf. An ‘on shore’ wind is when the wind is coming from the sea onto the shore line creating messy surf as the wind (depending on how strong it is) pushes the waves on top of each other causing them to break early. An ‘off shore’ wind is where the wind is coming from the beach and is heading towards the ocean. Even if the wind is strong it will still allow for a clean surf as the wind separates the waves and allows them to break cleanly. A ‘ cross shore’ wind can be combined with on or off shore creating ‘cross shore off shore’ or ‘cross shore on shore.’ These winds are relatively easy to spot as the surf will either be messy and choppy or clean with back spray. If you are not sure when doing your surf check just look at the beach flags, the trees or the direction your hair is being blown in.
These 3 checks are the first things you should look for when doing an accurate surf check to assess if the conditions are suitable for your level of skill and experience. When completed correctly, you are sure to have an awesome surf leaving with that overwhelming feeling of “STOKE” that we all crave.
Here is a little tip I give most of my students before we head out into the water.
Sit down on the beach for a while, stretch and just watch what the waves are doing and run through your 3 checks. Then visualize yourself on the wave, how you will move, how you would ride it. I find this is a really important step as not only are you physically preparing, but also mentally preparing yourself to completely commit to the surf. If you do feel yourself starting to freak out, you can check back in with your thoughts, take yourself back to your surf check and visualisation and use this to calm your mind and connect with the ocean. Focus on what you need to practice out there, just pick one thing for the session and go out there, have fun and get your froth on.
See you out there!