Waves become surfable when they break
You can recognise a broken wave by its white chop or whitewater. Beginners start surfing on broken waves as they are relativaly easy to catch. The power of the broken part of the wave pushes you forward so you don’t need to paddle much. Once paddling and the pop op are mastered, it’s time to get to the next level; surfing green waves / onbroken waves. These waves do break but in a different way. This article will help you to understand the differece between breaking waves. To really have a good understanding, go out to the sea and look at the waves. What way will the wave break, how long does it take for it to break and so on. When you get better at reading the waves, you will also improve your level of surfing.
How do waves break?
A wave breaks when the bottom part is slowed down by land, causing the upper part to catch up, rise and crash. The way waves break depends on the seabed and slope. For example, when waves break on a sudden shallow reef they break very powerful. On the other hand when the seabed rises slowly the waves break slower and have less power. More detailed information about the different types of surf breaks is explained here.
Green waves or onbroken waves actually do break but break to the right, left or in an a-frame. Waves that break all at once are called ‘close outs’. A well-formed wave clearly breaks to a side. The side is determined from the surfer’s perspective.
4 types of breaking waves
1. Left breaking wave
A left wave breaks to the left (from the surfers perspective). Starting at the peak and peeling its way down to the left. A left wave should be surfed to the left as the surfer is showing in this image.
2. Right breaking wave
A right wave breaks to the right (from the surfers perspective). Starting at the peak and peeling its way down to the right. As shown by the surfer in this image, a right wave should be surfed to the right.
When a wave breaks to both sides, it’s called an a-frame wave. You can recognize it by a peak like shape. In this image you see the wave in the back breaking as an a-frame and on both sides there is a wall for surfers to surf on.
A wave that breaks all at once is called a “close-out” and can be recognized by the straight wall-like shape. This wave is not really surfable. Sometimes you are able to make a bottom turn but soon the wave will break in front or even on top of you.