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How to read a surf report?

Surf Tales General

How to read a surf report?


N 52° 22′ 12.778″  E 4° 53′ 42.605″ 

Understanding the most important elements of a surf report is very important to be able to surf in the right place at the right time. In this article we explain briefly what a surf report is, where the data comes from, and – naturally – the most important elements of a surf report to be able to understand it properly. Within a few minutes you will be ready to find out at what time you need to be at which surf spot for the best surfing experience of the day.

What is a surf report?

A surf report is a visual representation of the ocean and atmospheric conditions that predict the quality of a surf spot during the (near) future. Data related to the ocean and weather are presented in a table, with all the necessary data to determine the difference in quality between spot A and spot B at a specific moment. Reading an (online) surf report is fairly simple, after reading this article we guarantee that you can get along pretty well with reading a report. Note: a surf report is not (always) 100% accurate, but the quality of modern surf reports is generally very good, and the forecasts often come close to reality.

How is the data for a surf report collected?

The data from a surf report comes from complicated computer-controlled algorithms that receive information from satellites and ocean buoys. These ocean buoys are located in strategic places in the oceans and measure a large amount of information, such as the height of the waves, direction of the swell, speed and direction of the wind, temperature of the water and of the air, etc. Thanks to advanced software, predictions are made from which we will reap the benefits.

These ocean buoys are in strategic places for various reasons. With this, warnings can be given for dangerous water levels near densely populated coastal towns, it provides information for ships, oil platforms and aviation. We are therefore only too happy to be able to ride along with this information.

Reading a surf report

Nowadays there are many different apps and websites where you can find surf reports. At the end of this article we provide an overview of a number of very popular reports, so you can get going yourself. Many reports provide predictions from the short to the fairly long term. As you might expect, the chance of an accurate forecast is a lot bigger with a 24-hour forecast than with a 7-day forecast, so keep that in mind. Below you will find the most important elements to analyze in a surf report:

  • Wave height: the height of the waves is of course one of the most important variables of the surf report. The significant wave height tells us the average height of the top 1/3 of all waves in a 20-minute period. This gives you a good insight into what the waves are like while you wait for a wave on your surfboard.
  • Wave periods: groundswells, which you recognize because of the relatively long periods between the waves (10 – 20 seconds), are known for their powerful and good quality waves. On the other side of the spectrum you will find the windswells, which at less than 10 second intervals offer waves of poorer quality.
  • Swell direction: the direction from which the waves come is often indicated by degrees. As a rule of thumb, you can assume that a coastline facing the west receives the best waves when the waves come from the west.
  • Wind speed & direction: wind creates waves (in the form of ground swell), but can also ruin the waves. Even when a groundswell reaches a coast, onshore wind (wind that blows into the land from the sea) will considerably reduce the quality of the waves. Opposite this is offshore wind (wind that blows the sea from land), which increases the quality of the waves.
  • Tides: the tides play an essential role in the formation of surfing conditions. The role of the tides, however, differs greatly per surf spot. At some spots you will see that at low tide the waves close too quickly, so there is no surfing. Another problem at low tide may be that rocks or coral come to lie above water, which makes it dangerous to surf. Other spots again work poorly at high tide, because the waves break too close to the beach, so there is no surfing.

What can you make from the above table with a (simplified) surf report regarding February 24 in Hossegor, in southwest France?

  • The waves are 1.6 meters in the early morning and reach a height of 2 meters around noon. Later they take something off again.
  • The waves come from the west. Because Hossegor is located on the west coast of France, the beach is oriented to the west. This means that the waves will roll right onto the beach at Hossegor.
  • There is a reasonable wind of around 14 knots in the morning, which will increase slightly at the end of the afternoon to around 20 knots.
  • The wave period is 13/14 seconds, which means a neat ground swell.
  • The local wind comes from the east, this means that the wind comes offshore.
  • In short: get your board and let’s go!

Popular surf reports

Thomas Oosterhof

Via mijn studie Tourism Management ben ik terecht gekomen bij SurfaWhile. Waar ik elke dag meer leer over het surfen, en het verkopen van surfreizen. Door het schrijven van artikelen over surfvakanties, ervaringen en prachtige surfbestemmingen zorg ik er voor dat jij goed voorbereid op surfvakantie gaat!

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