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Open Access Publications from the University of California

The Science of Surfing Waves and Surfing Breaks - A Review

  • Author(s): Scarfe, B. E.;
  • Elwany, M. H.S.;
  • Mead, S. T.;
  • Black, K. P.
  • et al.

Surfing breaks have great social and economic value for coastal communities. In order to preserve and enhance these resources, a common language is needed that will bridge the gap between the colloquial slang of surfers and the technical language of scientists and policy makers. This language is the science of surfing waves and surfing breaks, and the more it is developed and used, the easier relations will be between the interested parties. This paper will create the basis for such a language to be used in future studies of surfing waves and surfing breaks. Surfing waves and surfing breaks are currently understood well enough to predict the effects of coastal modifications on surfing locations and to design artificial surfing reefs. However, the use of this knowledge for more practical applications has been limited. This paper consolidates the literature on the science of surfing waves and surfing breaks in an effort to communicate the basics of this science to coastal planners, engineers and policy makers. First, the types of surfing waves that are preferred by surfers are discussed, including a description of the main surfing wave parameters. Second, it is shown that the wave type determines the surfing skill level required and types of maneuvers that can be performed. Third, the seabed features that cause waves to transform well for surfing are presented.

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