Wave Height: the dichotomy of the Hawaiian scale and the Bascom Method

The measurement of waves has always had different approaches when it comes to surfing. What is wave height? When should a wave be measured?

Surfing is a sport of achievements. The first wave ride, the first surf line, the first barrel, the biggest wave. One of the most famous surfing quotes tells everything about surfers and their passion. "You should've been here yesterday...".

Buzzy Trent, a big wave surfer, also told us that "waves are not measured in feet and inches, but in increments of fear". The quotation raised the question: so, how can you measure surfing waves, in order to establish comparisons?

There two strong approaches to wave height. The Bascom Method and the Hawaiian Wave Scale. Like John Kelly Jr. once said, "you can overestimate or you can underestimate". That is precisely what defines both theories of wave measurement.

Hawaiian surfers have been known for measuring waves from the back, which mean they cut wave face height in half, in a response to Californian surfers' exaggerated achievements and bravado.

When big wave surfing got the attention of the media, as an alternative discipline of surfing, the Hawaiian Wave Scale conquered fans. It was really cool to underestimate the size of wave.

The scientific approach to wave height is, however, colder and pure mathematics. The method developed by Willard Newell Bascom is simple, fair and rational.

It tells us that to measure wave height, you should stand on the beach with your eyes aligned with the wave crest and the horizon. Then, measure the wave from that point to the average sea level.

The Hawaiian Wave Scale has a few disadvantages. It is difficult when measuring small waves, it can't be confirmed from the beach, it is based in emotional variables of courage, it does not measure the entire face in which surfers ride and it doesn't apply to waves that are big and heavy, but don't wave a large back, like Teahupoo.

Measuring waves: the balanced and logical concept of Surfable Wave Face

The third way of measuring waves would be a fair and balanced approach based on the area that is actually ridden by a surfer, 90% of the time. Having in mind that the bottom-turn is the lowest point in wave face, the Surfable Wave Face hypothesis would consider 2/3 of the Bascom Method as the area where surfers draw their lines and tricks, from the pocket to almost sea level.

In conclusion, a two-meter wave (6.5 feet) in the Bascom Method would correspond to a one-meter wave in the Hawaiian Scale (3.2 feet) and 1.3-meter wave (4.2 feet) in the Surfable Wave Face.

The logical concept of the Surfable Wave Face brings the best of the underestimated and overestimated models into a globally accepted model for measuring wave height in the sport of surfing.

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