Observing the waves three minutes per foot

Surf observation: know before you go | Photo: Rip Curl/Ducasse

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 often let their emotions flow freely: waves are pumping, and there's no time to lose.

We put our wetsuit on in one minute and wax up our surfboard in 30 seconds.

The truth is we could have improved our surf session enormously if we had spent a few minutes analyzing the ocean.

And there's so much to see:

  1. Moon and Tide: Do you know how the moon affects tides or 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 your paddling and line-up positioning;
  3. Ocean Floor: Are waves 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 work out how it is influencing the incoming swell period;
  5. Identify Wave Peaks: Check if there's a main take-off spot or if there are any good, less-crowded alternatives;
  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 one evaluates wave size, then allows for three minutes of observation per foot.


  • 3 feet = 9 minutes of observation before paddling out;
  • 10 feet = 30 minutes of observation before paddling out;
  • 20 feet = 60 minutes of observation before paddling out;

Take your time. The more you analyze the waves you're about to surf, the more data you'll collect to perform and catch the best waves.

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