What is a wind swell?

March 25, 2019 | Surfing
Wind swell: a group of short-period ocean waves created by local winds | Photo: Shutterstock

A wind swell is a group of short-period ocean waves created by local winds or winds blowing close to shore.

The phenomenon occurs at around one hundred miles distance or less from the shoreline. The waves of a wind swell appear closer together compared with the long-period waves of a groundswell.

Wind swell waves tend to be slow, steep, break in deeper water and further out the back. Nevertheless, these waves form relatively close to shore.

Generally, waves generated by local winds tend to be spilling waves.

The only thing a wind swell has in common with a groundswell is that, in both cases, wind transfers energy into the water - the fetch - to produce waves.

In most cases, close-proximity wind swells are not suitable for surfing. They tend to produce choppy, mushy, and unstable waves, and they often arrive with onshore winds.

Because they have not traveled enough distance to clean up, wind swells create low energy waves.

Wind swell: shot-period waves are not always good for surfing | Photo: Shutterstock

Wave Period

From a wave period perspective, wind swells and ground swells are on the opposite side of the spectrum.

You can quickly detect a wind swell is hitting your home break when you look at the charts and they indicate a wave period of less than 10 seconds.

On the other hand, when the surf forecast predicts a swell interval of between 10 and 20 seconds, then a groundswell is about to land at your favorite surf spot.

Wind swells may be strong and offer big waves, but they are frequently short-lived.

And, because the waves they deliver were generated close to the place where they'll break, the quality of the surf will rarely be satisfactory.

Interestingly, the bathymetry of the ocean floor is felt greatly by ground swells.

As a result, long-period waves will behave differently from spot to spot along the coastline, whereas a wind swell will produce more uniform waves across the region.

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