Surfing brings you into a deep relationship with not only the ocean, but the land that meets up with the ocean. No two waves are alike, and the same goes for how the waves are produced. On the outside it might seem as though waves all behave the same. But when you look a little further and go under the surface (pun intended), you’ll see there are actually a few different ways that waves come to be.
There are three main ways that a wave breaks. Coincidentally these classifications are called “breaks”. Surfers are never ones to complicate things. The three different types of breaks are beach breaks, reef breaks, and point breaks. Let’s take a look at them below:
Point BreakYes, it’s not just a really awesome movie starring Patrick Swayze and Keanu Reeves with a remake soon to come. It is a type of break where the wave hits a piece of land that sticks out, generally a bay or peninsula, and gradually rolls inward toward shore. This is a very consistent and predictable type of wave.
Many of the world’s top breaks are point breaks. Two of my favorites are Raglan in New Zealand and Waimea Bay in Hawaii. But there are so many different point breaks out there, you can’t really go wrong.
Beach BreakThis is the most common type of break that people will surf, as it’s close to the beach. It can also be the most difficult to read because the ground under the water is usually sandy, which is constantly shifting around. Sand bars will collect, and if they are lined up in the right angle, can produce some good waves. But since these sandbars can move around, you have to keep paddling around to different spots all the time, eyeing up where the wave is at it’s highest point (called the “peak”). Once you get a feel for it, though, you’ll be in the right spot at the right time to catch those perfect “beachies” as the Aussies say.
On days with big waves it can be difficult to paddle out to a beach break. Other types of breaks usually have a channel where the water is deeper, and this can happen on a beach break as well, but it is definitely more common. But if you get your duck dive down solid, you won’t need to worry about that, leaving all the kooks behind you in the whitewash.
Reef BreakReef breaks produce the best hollow barrels on the planet, but the downside is that they are also the most dangerous. Pipeline, Teahupoo, and Cloudbreak are some of the world’s most spectacular reef breaks. They are also stops on the World Surfing League World Championship Tour for the skill required to navigate them. There are other reef breaks that aren’t so dangerous, but all are generally formed because the water is so shallow over the reefs. If the point hasn’t been made clear yet, realize that reef breaks are generally for experienced surfers only. Please go out at your own risk.
The upside is that there is usually a deeper channel next to the reef making it easier to paddle out. The reefs also don’t shift around like a sandy bottom beachbreak, so they are much more predictable. That said, it’s still the unpredictable ocean, so you always have to stay on guard.
Hopefully you’ll have plenty of days surfing all types of waves and find your favorite. See you in the water!