What is a surf forecast? This article will explain what information is given in a surf report and how to read the weather data. This article will also use the words ‘forecast’ and ‘report’ interchangeably, but they are meant in the same context.
A surf report consists of many factors, including:
- Wave height
- Wind direction
- Tidal state
The first thing you need to know about reading a surf report is that it’s not as simple as looking at the wave height, wind direction, or tidal state on their own.
You have to find all of these factors and more before making any predictions for the day’s surfing conditions. But don’t worry! We’ll break down everything for you and even give some examples so that by the end of this blog post, you’ll know how to read a surf forecast with confidence!
For this article, we are going to use the Windy.app to look at the surf forecast for Boneyards at J-Bay, South Africa.
1. Wave height
Wave height or surf height is the measurement of how tall a wave is at the beach. It’s different from the swell height, which is measured further out to sea. Wave height is typically measured and shown in feet or meters.
2. Wind direction and speed
The quality of the waves depends on where they’re coming from and what sort of wind is blowing. If it’s offshore, you can expect a slightly better wave because there will be less breaking before reaching shore.
However, when the winds are pushing water towards land, that becomes known as onshore. Strong onshore winds can break up waves prematurely and could be a potential red flag when reading a report.
3. Tide information – high or low tide
High and low tides play an essential role in the formation of good surf. Depending on the spots you are looking to surf, some are suited for high tide, and some are better suited to low tide.
For example, Beach breaks tend to be better suited to higher tides, and reef breaks often work better on lower tides.
*Tip – knowing when the tide is ebbing (retreating) or flooding (approaching) can help you fine-tune your session. Visually this is shown on the tidal curve. The steeper the curve the closer the tide is to either peak ebb or flood.
4. Wave period (the time between waves)
When predicting surf conditions, it’s important to consider the frequency of waves. The longer a wave period is, the more energy can be expected in that swell or set of waves.
A good rule of thumb for this: the longer the interval between waves, the more energy the water has and vice versa.
The direction swell comes from is called swell direction. Swell directions are measured in degrees and often referred to by general directions, such as north-northwest or southwest swells.
This information allows surfers to determine the quality of a wave they’re going out for beforehand so that they know what’s waiting on them when they arrive at their destination.
The average size of the swell is measured from peak to trough. And the seconds in between peak-to-peak or trough-to-trough (the swell period). The height is gathered through both historical data and current real-time measurements collected by offshore buoys.
The water temperature is an often overlooked bit of data in the surf report that will significantly impact a surfing session. Knowing the temperature of the water will determine if you will need a wetsuit or not.
And if you do need a wetsuit, knowing the temperature will help you pick the right thickness to stay warm during your session.
Where can I find a surf report?
One of the most popular surf-report sites out there is Surfline. The site has a deep history of providing the latest surf forecast, live streaming cameras at beaches and other surfing hotspots.
However, you have to pay for access to the best info (though free trials are available). You get what you’re willing and able to afford; with Surfline, that can be a lot!
Surfline is the source that provides surf reports and forecasts for the World Surf League (WSL). They also have a section on travel information for those who want to find out where their favourite waves are located worldwide or visit new ones!
The website is an excellent resource for anyone interested in learning about any aspect of surfing conditions.
The world’s largest free surf forecasting site is Magic Seaweed. The 1 million members on their website are like-minded sea enthusiasts.
You can get a 7-day forecast without having to sign up, but for the 16-day forecast, you’ll need an account with them.
If you’re looking for a surfing website, this is an excellent option. One of its best features is the vast archive of photographs and videos that showcase surfers from all over around the world in different waves – not to mention its easy-to-use swell session info and news.
The graphics representing wave height and wind direction make navigation pretty simple, too, so you can get your information quickly without any hassle at all.
Surf Forecast is a website that offers surf reports and forecasts for over 7,000 of the world’s best surfing spots. The layout may be dated, but it avoids the trap other sites fall into by forecasting wave height inaccurately – something this site doesn’t do.
Surf-Forecast has lots of clickable spots to help newer surfers understand what things like wave energy or wave period mean and what will be ideal wind directions for the surf spot you’re exploring.
The animated maps and email alert system mean you’ll never miss out on another good day! It takes a bit more patience, but it’s worthwhile getting used to how it’s presented.
This site has been around for a while and is used by 400,000 people per month. It produces high-quality, detailed seven-day surf forecasts specific to the United States and in parts of Central America. Best yet? The service costs nothing at all!
The Surfline website is easy to navigate and provides helpful interactive features. The layout includes a current conditions section, surf graphs with recommendations for boards based on the waves you want to ride, as well as an interactive wave-height map that allows you to plan your session accordingly.
You can find a range of information on Swellinfo, in addition to photos and videos. The community forum is active for discussion!
Windguru is a comprehensive wind and weather forecast site that offers reports for locations worldwide. It provides users with in-depth information graphs such as swell size, direction, sea temperature, etc., to help you figure out your surfing spot of choice.
Windfinder is a beautiful app that provides wind reports and weather forecasts for over 40,000 locations. The detailed forecasts allow you to find the surf spot with the best wind, waves and weather conditions for your session.
If you’re looking for a reliable and accurate surf report, the Windfinder is your go-to website. This site provides current data on rain levels, cloud density, wind speed and land/sea temperature by the hour with more details than most other surfing forecasts out there!
What are the main weather forecast models?
ECMWF (European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts)
One of the most reliable and accurate models in existence today is called ECMWF. It uses an innovative concept, 4D, to constantly update its database as new data becomes available from satellites or other sources.
GFS (Global Forecast System)
The Global Forecast System is a famous model for predicting the weather globally. It comprises of four separate models: one atmospheric, one oceanic, one land/soil and other sea ice.
Providing an accurate picture of conditions across all nine geographical regions of the world by forecasting long-term and short-term weather events.
Using scientifically based assimilation methods to process data from satellites, ships at sea, aircraft and buoys with reports regarding what’s going on in the atmosphere.
But it has its drawbacks as well because it does not take into account the topography or shape of coastlines, which can affect how accurate predictions are.
ICON (Global German Standard)
The ICON is a weather model by the German Meteorological Service. It was created to be more accurate than ECMWF in Europe.
It provides data about air density, virtual potential temperature, wind speed, both vertical and horizontal, and humidity, among other variables.
UM (United Kingdom Met Office)
The UM (Unified Model), also often referred to as the UKMO, is a global model developed in the UK. This model runs every 12 hours and provides output for up to 3 days ahead.
Due to its resolution, it is used as a base for other regional small-scale models.
First created by scientists at the Met Office in Britain after years of studying weather patterns from an international perspective.
It has since gone through some significant changes and now it offers accurate predictions up to three full days into what might happen next based on information collected about past data sets accumulated worldwide.
CFS (Climate Forecast System)
The Climate Forecast System, or CFS for short, is a forecast system created by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to minimize climate inaccuracies when predicting rare weather events.
The CFS takes regular input based on our country’s collection of weather observations over the course of eleven years.
These data points are then combined with elements like actual climatological annual cycles to create maps that predict how the climate may behave in nine months time.
However, because long-term computer models are so limited by access to high-ranking information sources, it can become challenging to pinpoint accurate future climates even if there are patterns deciphered.
Despite this flaw, these forecasts still show great promise for practical usage in long term planning.
Final Thoughts on How to Read a Surf Forecast
As a surfer, it’s essential to know how to read a surf forecast, and what to look out for. We’ve shown how to extract all the data and highlighted 7 things you should be looking for when evaluating any surf report.
To beef up your knowledge, we outlined which weather models are used in forecasting and some great places where you can find quality reports online.
Once you build your confidence navigating these online reports, why not take a peek at our guide on how to read surf waves.