The Nautical World...

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Surf's up? Maybe?

I spent my whole life seeing people surf. On vacations when I was little I would rent giant foamy boards and paddle around in the soupy parts and then brag about my monster waves. I was stationed along the coast for 5 years in the Marines and now have been living near one since 2002. But in that entire time, even though I dabbled in it, I never really learned how to actually surf. I mean I did, but not on the level where I could consistently predict and catch waves. Well, that all changed once I moved to Galveston. After many near death experiences I would say that on a mediocre level, I can now do a pretty decent job.

A few weeks ago, Galveston had a perfect day. I stayed out for hours and even went once in the morning, and once in the evening. It was exhilarating! A 4 foot wave felt like 40, and I haven't stopped thinking about it yet. But now I'm faced with a dilemma. Like a cracked-out bum looking for a rock, I too crave another good Galveston surf day. Will it ever come? 

A friend of mine said that best surf in Galveston is during the winter. Why? Well, in Galveston we have a pretty consistent south wind. This drives the water up on land but then when a front hits (a north wind) it slaps that wave in the face and makes it stand up. Pretty simple, eh? Well with the exiting of winter (or whatever we have down here) that means less north winds, Pretty depressing really. So that I am on my toes for next time, I wanted to learn the basics of how waves work.

The faster it blows (velocity) coupled with how long (duration) and along with how much area is affected (fetch) determines waves. If this is created by a local onshore wind (Galveston) it tends to be messy. If produced by a storm system offshore then it is better, bigger, cleaner. The only remedy for the Galveston situation, like I said earlier, is a north wind after a big south wind build up. The only problem is is that the north wind responsible for the pretty waves is also the thing that flattens it out :(.

They are formed when the wind blows over the water and makes chop. As smaller chop combines with other chop, it gets bigger and bigger, making patterns of waves. A wave has several parts. The crest (top) the trough (bottom) and the wavelength (distance from crest to crest) and the height (crest to trough). The waves are also measured by frequency and period.  Period is the time between crests, frequency is the amount of waves over a fixed point in a given time. Longer period waves tend to be stronger, shorter ones disperse a little easier. By using frequency and period based off an offshore buoy, you can determine (kinda) what is to be expected once it hits shore.

Wave speed is related to its period. The smaller a period, the smaller the wave, the slower it goes. Think about mass and momentum. The longer period waves are bigger and contain more mass and therefore can move at and maintain those faster speeds. 

Bathymetry, beach shape
Bathymetry is the study of the sea bed. When these swells move into areas that are shallow they lose energy quickly. If it were to go from deep ocean right onto the beach then massive waves are created (Hawaii). This is why Galveston is not like the North Shore. But Galveston does have a series of 3 sand bars. When a swell hits an obstacle (sandbar) it will create a bigger wave than a swell moving up a sloping beach. This is why Galveston really has some good days. Also, with all the jetties and groins along the seawall, it creates some "artificial" sandbars that make the waves break almost right at the jetty line. Without these, Galveston may be smooth a flat.

Other factors
Tide, swell direction, refraction, and local winds are other contributing factors. Local winds are a big factor here in G-town. Another one specific to here would be reflection. Anyone who has surfed near the groins can see waves reflected off of them. Sometimes they help, sometimes they just mess it all up. When the wind is coming straight in it is no problem, but if its off to the side it creates a little too much chop.
That was a cold January

In a nut shell, there it is. I wish there was surf everyday, no lie, but I think studying it and waiting for it makes it that much better. In my constant quest to reach true waterman enlightenment, I feel it is these things that help me better understand our relationship with the sea.

What is your relationship with the sea, and how do you interact? Post your responses in the comment section below. 

Drop me a sonar ping at for a suggestion of what you would like to see on here in the future.

Water is Life




  1. WoWW!!!
    Surfing every time I hear this word, I am really craving for this one. I almost die because of surfing. And as what my uncle says every time I surf is this Water surfing requires wave links and great weather. Surf crafts are basically built to ride waves. Another very important fact about surfing is that only one person at a time can ride a wave i.e. 1 wave for 1 person.

  2. waite for the one who is constantly reminding you how he cares a bout
    you & how much lucky he's to HAVE YOU.
    Tera Power Leveling

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