I still remember it so clearly. I was in Nicaragua and woke up super early. The hostel was still sounds asleep but as I walked down to check the waves, they were looking good. I decided to jump in. Somehow I knew it was a bit risky because I decided to put my dress in the middle of the reception so that it was clear that I had gone for a surf. And my god, I got smashed. I decided to jump into waves that were 2 to 3 metres, hollow and powerful. I was so scared and almost drowned that morning. Only now I realize that the waves were way too difficult for me at that time.
One of the most difficult things for a surfer is to read the ocean properly. I would even dare to claim that it is more difficult than surfing itself. Reading the ocean can take years of experience in and near the ocean. Luckily, there are some tips and tricks when it comes to reading the ocean. In this article I will explain what you can pay attention too when looking at the ocean to decide whether to go for a surf or not.
Spend fifteen minutes watching the ocean
One of the first things i recommend is to spend some time watching the ocean. This tip you have probably heard before. It is important to watch the ocean for a while because the ocean is ever changing and especially on bigger days when the period, the time in between the waves, is bigger it can seem completely flat one moment and huge the other moment. To get a good view what is going on you need to watch for some time. What can you pay attention too while watching:
- The speed with which the wave is breaking: Look at the pocket of the wave, that point where the green water is turning white, and check how quickly the white water is moving. If the white water is moving super quickly, the wave will be quicker to ride and harder to catch. If the white water is moving slower, the wave will be slower too and easier to get into as a beginner.
- The shape of the wave: Is the wave dumpy and hollow or more smooth and spilling? If the wave is plunging as is indicated on the picture before it is much more powerful. More water gets thrown at one time down which creates a hollow and quick wave most suited for shortboarders and experienced surfers. If the wave is more spilling and breaking in a more gentle way, the wave will be less powerful and you will have more time to correct as the wave takes more time to break. These kind of waves are more suited for beginners and longboarders for example.
- The size of the wave: This is the hardest to estimate, especially from a viewpoint. The best thing to do is to walk towards the beach to get an accurate view of how the waves are breaking. Pay attention to the other surfers in the water. When they are standing on a wave, how much wave is left above their head? Most surfers will be about 1,7-,2,0 metres so if the wave is overhead it will mean that you will jump into waves of at least 2 metres in size!
- Other surfers: Another good thing to check is what kind of surfers are in the water. Of course this is not always true but it can definitely help to get a good estimate. Are there only experienced surfers in the water or very few? Chances are that conditions are tricky and dangerous. Are there many beginners and softboards in the water? Chances are that conditions are more gentle and more suited to beginners. Try to find someone that matches your level of surfing in the water and see how he or she is doing. Is she managing to get through the waves easily? Does she wipe-out a lot or is she catching a lot of waves? In this way you can get an eye for whether the conditions are suitable for you. You can always ask other surfers too when they come out of the water what the conditions are like!
Be honest with yourself
Hopefully the list above can help you when you are watching the ocean to check whether the waves are right for you. But the most important always remains you! Check in with yourself before you hit the water and see how your energy level is and how sharp you feel. If your energy is high and you feel sharp, maybe you can push yourself and try out conditions that are challenging. But if your energy is low and you are tired at the end of a long day, maybe you should not push yourself and try to find a beach where conditions are a bit easier. In the end you will improve most when you are honest with yourself. If you tend to overestimate your own ability, the ocean will find a way to humble you which might result in serious danger. Sometimes it is better to underestimate yourself and go for easier conditions so that you feel more and more comfortable every time you go in the ocean.
If you want more help with picking the right waves and reading the ocean, check out the surf and inner balance retreats that we will be organizing after the summer! The date is uncertain for now because of Corona but will be set whenever things open up again.