Surf observation: know before you go

Surfers want perfect waves, right here, right now. But, do they pay enough attention to the line-up before paddling out?


As adrenaline junkies, surfers let their emotions flow freely. It's pumping and there's no time to lose. We put our wetsuit on in one minute and wax up our board in 30 seconds.

The truth is we would have improved our surf session if we had spent a few minutes analyzing the ocean. And there so much to watch:

1. Moon and tide. Do you know how the moon affects tides, and how tide times affect your surf?
2. Power and direction of the currents. Pay attention to the water movements along the shoreline. It will influence you paddling and line-up positioning.
3. Ocean floor. Are wave breaking over a sand bank or reef? Are there rocks nearby?
4. Wind and swell direction. Feel the power and direction of the wind and how it is influencing the incoming swell period.
5. Identify wave peaks. Check if there's a main take-off spot and if the alternatives are good and less crowded.
6. Spot the channels. Try to find currents that will help you return to the line-up after finishing a long ride.

The surf book "Secrets to Progressive Surfing", by Didier Piter, intelligently proposes "The Rule of 3", in which you evaluate wave size and allow three minutes of observation per foot. Example:

3 feet = 9 minutes observation before paddling out
10 feet = 30 minutes observation before paddling out
20 feet = 1 hour observation before paddling out