Surf Science: Wind, Rights, and Lefts

It’s (finally!) the weekend!!!  Whoo hooo!

 In the last few months, we’ve been learning the science behind waves and surfing.   We’ve covered how waves are made and where they break.  Now, to surf better you need to understand wind conditions and which direction to ride the wave! 

First, wind:  The wind can either make or break your surf session.  An easy way to know what direction the wind is blowing is to check the direction that a flag is waving in relation to the ocean and land.

Offshore Wind comes from the land and heads in the direction to the ocean. (Think that that the wind is come off the shore onto the water.)  Offshore wind is the best for surfing.  It ensures that the waves rolling in are well formed and break cleanly.  A quick way to know if is blowing offshore is if you see the “plume” spray from a crashing wave, like in the pictures below.

Wack-a-mole Tamarindo style. Kristen showing the boys how it's done.

Wack-a-mole Tamarindo style. Kristen showing the boys how it’s done.


MI OLA Athlete Bailey Rosen

Onshore Wind comes from the ocean and onto land.  That refreshing breeze from the ocean on a hot summer day?   It’s bad for surf conditions.  There could be a really nice swell, but an onshore wind can make all the waves crumble and have no shape, making the waves un-surfable. No fun!

Cross shore wind is not desirable either, not giving shape to the waves.

Glass is when there is little-to-no wind at all, and the ocean looks like a pane of glass. Glassy conditions usually happen early in the morning. Glassy conditions are pretty awesome for surfers!


Next you have to know which way a wave is breaking, because riding straight is not as fun and carving up the face of a wave.

A wave can be either a left or a right, depending on which direction the wave breaks from the point of view of the surfer catching the wave.  When a surfer is paddling to catch a wave and the surfer will have to turn left to ride the wave, then this wave is a left.  The peak of the wave is on the surfer’s right shoulder as she catches the wave. (From the beach the wave will be seen to breaking to the right, but the surfer’s point of view counts here!)  Vice versa for a right.

If you are a regular foot surfer (you surf with your right foot back), going right is your frontside and going left is your backside (because your back is to the wave). For goofy footers it is just the opposite; going left is your frontside and going right is your backside.

January 2014 2

Brand Ambassador Cait, a goofy footer, going left


Going right for a regular footer.

A beach break wave can either break left and right at the peak or in just one direction. If it’s breaking both directions, you can often have surfers riding the wave on both sides!  Point breaks are either a left or right.  Never both.

Or, depending on the conditions, the wave could be a closeout and break all at once. Surfers don’t like closeouts because they have no face of the wave to ride.

Got it?! Good! Now #getoutthere and go surf!