Will Climate Change Affect Surfing

We have seen firsthand the effects of Global Warming and the monster waves that Superstorms like Sandy brought with her that destroyed coastal towns from the Jersey Shore to Staten Island. During this event, the only people that benefited seemed to be the Surfers who rode the epic waves that preceded the storm. Will Climate Change affect Surfing?

Because of rising temperatures caused by Climate Change, Epic Wave Heights, and Wave Energy might seem good for Surfers. But changing Sea Levels will also damage shorelines along with changing seafloor features and seafloor slopes causing uncertainty for the future of Surfing in present locations.

People living in low-line coastal areas, especially on the Eastern Seaboard are seeing the effects of Global Warming along with witnessing wave size and power like nothing else they have ever seen before. When you live on land next to the Ocean you learn that the main ingredients for coastal flooding are Wind, Tides, and waves that they bring.


How Are Ocean Waves Formed


Winds Blowing On A flat Surface

Waves are generated by wind. Offshore storms generate winds that blow on the surface of the ocean and make ripples. The wind can be seen on weather maps as low-pressure areas. The more low-pressure and the longer it sits (as in a big storm) tightly packed the isobars are on the weather map the stronger the winds will be. Small waves (capillary waves) are initially generated in the direction that the wind is blowing.

Fetch is the area of the sea surface where the wind generates the waves/swell. It’s one of the key facets of the quality of a swell and the size of the waves. The greater area on the ocean surface that the wind affects the larger the wave.


Constant Wind creates a Constant Swell


The stronger and longer the wind blows, the more effect it has on these ripples and the larger they become. Initially, the waves will just be small chops in the ocean water surface, but these will soon increase in size.

As the wind continues to blow and the waves generated remain under the influence of the wind, the smaller waves will increase in size. The wind will get hold of the small waves much more easily than the calm sea surface.

The wave size is dependent on the wind speed generating it. A certain wind speed will only be able to generate a wave of a certain size. Once the largest waves that can be generated for a given wind speed have formed, the seas are “fully formed.”


Large Groundswell


Waves being generated have different speeds and wave periods. The longer the period of waves, the bigger the swell.  Larger Groundswells are faster and move farther ahead of the rest of the slower waves. As the waves travel farther away (propagate) from the wind source, they start to organize themselves into swell lines. “Wave trains” form and these inevitably hit the beach at the same time. You may have heard of sets already! Waves that are no longer affected by the wind that generated them can be referred to as ground swell, gold dust for surfers!


Ocean Wave Energy


New studies on the earth’s temperature show that ocean waves are increasing in power and strength. Global wave energy has actually been increasing more than .4 % every year since 1948, which is a very significant increase. most of the changes that are happening according to scientists have the biggest effects on the oceans. This also affects oceans’ interactions with the atmosphere around them such as air currents that affect winds that can cause erosions.

Not only are the wave heights taller but the wave becoming longer events. These events can affect coastal areas from the western coastal towns in Europe to the edge of Eastern towns in the United States. So we are all affected by the warming and the wave changes.

The warming effect the storms in the North Atlantic making them stronger and longer with more powerful waves and wind action that make the storms even more destructive. The same kind of happening is taking place in the Southern Hemisphere and the Indian ocean directly affects Africa and Latin America.

These wave measurements are particularly worrisome in the Pacific ocean where there is a huge energetic-sized wave, to begin with. The new study feels that the size of waves can directly correlate with the action of Global Warming, and flooding events.

The new science of “Wave Energy” or “Wave Climate” can be a more important control indicator for people living in coastal regions around the globe.

The effect on population and their economies will be on the resulting end with negative results that will hurt the populations of people that make living in coastal communities. So the more tools we have to predict the situation the more information we’ll have, it’s possible we’ll be able to come up with some solutions earlier in the game before bad things start to happen. 

This new type of science called “Wave Climate” will be best used especially where populations are under direct result and dangers that come from rising Temperatures.

This past year 20018 brought rising Temperature at the poles, fuel storms that drive Wave Activity. Nor-Easters over Eastern coastline of the United States according to some Scientist are due to Artic storms. The Surfers on the east coast benefited by the higher waves and the jet steam that was moved into a different type pattern brought really warm weather and high pressure systems over the west coast that were great for surfing conditions in Southern California but bad for drought conditions and fires.  

 How Do Waves Break


As the wave moves into increasingly shallow water, the bottom of the wave decreases speed. There comes a point where the top of the wave overtakes it and starts to spill forward this is where the wave will start to break.  The surfer jumps on for the ride. In general, a wave will start to break when it reaches a water depth of 1.3 times the wave height.

The type of wave that is produced is dependent on different factors.

  • Type of swell- Groundswell work best for creating the best waves. The longer wavelength waves will move quickly and get into shallow water before starting to break. The breaking waves will be steeper and faster.
  • Wind direction-Offshore wind is most desirable for creating good waves. The wind blows against the top part of the wave and helps delay the top part from overtaking the bottom part and spilling over. This results in the waves breaking later than they normally would in calm conditions. Onshore wind will have the opposite effect.  Onshore wind pushes the top of the wave forward causing the wave to break and fall over before the normal breaking depth is reached. Waves tend to fall apart and fail to reach their optimum peak.


  • The slope of sea bed– The action of the sea bed slowing the bottom part of the wave that causes the wave to break. A gently sloping approach causes the bottom of the wave to drag, resulting in the top of the wave prematurely overtaking the bottom resulting in the wave breaking into deeper water. These crumbling waves won’t be steep and will lack power and punch. The opposite to the gently sloping sea floor is a steep slope or a reef. The swell approaches the beach or a reef at a greater speed. The wave “jacks up” due to the rapid increase in depth creating a higher wave. The breaking depth is reached much later than that on the gently sloped bottom. The top of the wave quickly overtakes the bottom and pitches forward. The waves created by the rapid change in depth are much steeper and hollower, and — thus the tube is born!
  • Seafloor features-Sea floor features are especially important when surfing beach breaks. Surfing a flat beach is for novices. The waves constantly closeout, and you can’t get a decent ride. The sea floor needs to have different depths at different points of the wave so waves will peel along their length. Big storms and the action of waves moving sand create sand bars that alter the depth of the beach at certain points. Deeper water will run alongside the shallower sand bar giving the depth difference that a peeling wave needs.


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Biggest Surfing Waves in the World


Climate change trends and projections are measured by indicators like rising sea levels, increasing global temperatures, and decreasing sea ice. Now, analysis of the global marine climate has scientists looking at increases in wind speed and wave height as yet another indicator of ongoing climate change. The Main Factors that make the biggest Surfing Waves in the World:

  • Wind Speed-the greater the wind speed the larger the wave
  • Wind Duration-the longer the wind blows the larger the wave
  • Tide
  • Fetch-the greater area the wind affects the larger the wave

How Surfers See The Effects Of Climate Change Before You Do



Ever see the Surfer in the ocean surf right up until the last hour before the hurricane winds reach land. Surfers have always been free-spirited and kind of like daredevils on the sea. What do I know I’m from Jersey. Most of the new breed of Surfer is an activists for environmental change that they speak for.


Having done very little surfing in my life, I have met a few and they are very in tune with the surf. You have to be a good surfer. The average guy walking his dog on the beach wouldn’t know what an average surfer would know about the changes day to day in an area where they are on the water.  Conditions change naturally every day but subtle changes would be noticed by people that live on the water like fishermen, bait and tackle shop owners, and surfers.

Their whole idea with the sport of surfing is to catch that one big wave. In order to achieve that, they have to know what makes that happen.  They are constantly looking for and measuring the elements that will take them to the perfect ride and the perfect wave.

They would be the perfect choice of people to visually record how Wave Power exist day to day in one small area that they use because they’re measuring it every day. Not so much the scientific evidence but certainly the physical visual evidence.

More than ever these days, information about surf condition are available for people who have an interest in water conditions in Eastern Atlantic or the Western Pacific Oceans. Information is key to having success in any sport today and because of technology, any kind of information is possible.

Surfers have unlimited technical information and first-hand information that they gather and include for other servers or people with similar interests in the changing conditions of ocean surf. Up-to-date stats and weather forecasts are available on the beach to surfers who want to hit the water that minute.

Information on sites like Surfer Swell Watch will contact a subscriber with detailed information and updated weather and surf forecast so that the user has everything he/she needs hour to hour or day to day. The user is encouraged to add their own information from the area they are logged in so that the site contains a mix of water conditions, tips, and friendly information for an educational and happy experience.

Submitted content reports from Southern California look something like this:

Today (Monday) exceptionally strong SW wind swell is hitting the California coast. Although this should back off Monday, another round of localized swell is due Tuesday into Wednesday. Smaller surf is due later this week. Long-period NW groundswell could then hit SoCal Sunday the 10th and linger for a few days.

Condition-wise: more rain is in the forecast; onshore winds now improve later in the week; the tide is swinging wide; water temps are quite fair for this time of year, and advisories are in effect. Most west-facing breaks were running 2′ overhead to DOH with occasional pluses at standouts. Direct South facing breaks were running head high. This kind of information is directly linked to what a Surfer needs to know for the upcoming week of surfing.


Then more information is included like High Surf Alerts. Caution Advisories that give conditions of rip currents and dangers are part of the journal the Surfer keeps. The Surfer of today is available to constant catalogs of electronic data from hundreds of miles out to sea. Marked by Deep Ocean Buoys called BPRs ( Bottom Pressure Recorders) or DART and satellites delivering real-time information that is collected and categorized for other ocean enthusiasts to use. 

A High Surf Advisory means that high surf will affect beaches in the advisory area…

  • producing localized beach erosion
  • dangerous swimming conditions. Swim near a lifeguard. If caught in a rip current, relax and float. Don’t swim against the current. If able, swim in a direction following the shoreline. If unable to escape, face the shore and call or wave for help.
  • SURF…Breaking waves of 3 to 6 feet this afternoon will increase to 4 to 7 feet Tuesday morning.* IMPACTS…There is an increased risk of ocean drowning. Rip currents can pull swimmers and surfers out to sea. Large breaking waves can cause injury…wash people off beaches and rocks…and capsize small boats near shore.


Bacterial contamination.  Warning happens a lot after high amounts of rainfall that wash runoff in surfing areas. This can come from sewerage overflows and groundwater runoff. In this location of Southern California that I am using as an example, the Risk of Bacterial contamination comes with as little as 1/10 of an inch of rainfall.

Ocean Swell Warnings-Winds and Waves are traced for days and hundreds of miles and in the Pacific even as far away as Japan for conditions that will affect Southern California days or weeks later. All information is traded and filed.

Surfers wait in anticipation for Swells to arrive that bring in the wave height that is focused and followed around the world. Admitting that for a while Surf breaks will be optimum then it will change.


How Do You Get Out of a Rip Current

Water Waves Physics


According to The Geological Survey, it is true that rising temperatures will cause larger storms and epic swells. The periods between the swells will lengthen and will give a chance for surfers and other ocean enthusiasts to enjoy huge type wave heights that will be eventful. Where it goes from there Surfer isn’t sure.

Unfortunately, that will be followed by a week of extraordinary flatness. Climate Change makes extremes even more extreme. The larger waves and the longer duration of the swells make surfers very happy but Sea Levels are what Surfers worry about.

For surfers, the contour of a wave is as important as its size, and the way a wave builds and breaks is determined chiefly by the shape of the ocean floor as it meets the shoreline.  That happens near the beach and that all could change years from now because of Global warming.

“The frequency where you have the exact right combination of tide, wind, and swell to make a classic surf day are going to be fewer and further between,” said David Revell, a senior associate with the environmental hydrology firm Phillip Williams and Associates. Revell said climate change will eventually have a profound affect on surfing, citing Rincon and Pleasure Point in Santa Cruz, as two good examples of breaks that could eventually be significantly affected by sea level rise. On a long enough time frame, Revell said, some low tide spots, like Super tubes in Los Angeles County, could disappear completely.


With Global Warming, Seal Levels will change and with it, the problems of the changing shoreline along with beach erosion that no one can say with certainty that would be good or bad for the next generation of surfers.

The seafloor and shape of the bottom will likely change with the rising sea levels and this will cause breakers of large waves to come into the coastline differently than they are now. Until then Surfers won’t speculate on what will happen.

Gone are the lackadaisical free-spirited careless beach bums that came from the past. The battle that surfers fight today is the one of advocacy that makes them an educated and responsible watchdog for the changes that are developing as the earth warms up.

Surfers have found themselves in a unique situation as the in-between caretakers of the ocean and coastline. Using the new indicators of  “Wave Science”


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JimGalloway Author/Editor



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