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How To Read A Surf Report

Without a doubt, knowing how to read a surf report provides a huge helping hand in planning your surfing adventures. There’s nothing quite like the disappointment of turning up at the beach, ready to go and finding it’s completely flat.

So if you follow the tips in this guide on how to read surf reports, hopefully we can help you avoid that nasty sinking feeling!

The Basics Of How To Read A Surf Report

Basically what you want to know from reading a surf report is how big the waves will be – that’s kind of the whole point really.

But surf reports are a little bit more technical than that and take a bit of time to get used to and understand fully.

The main factors you look for in a surf report are:

  • Swell direction
  • Wave height
  • Wind
  • Tides

Some reports will also have air and water temperature, but these aren’t that important for surf conditions – more important for what you wear. (By the way, if you’re looking for a new wetsuit for surfing, we’ve got a great guide for you here.)

Example surf report from Mavericks, California

Swell Direction

In layman’s terms, swell direction is the direction which swell (aka the waves) are coming from.

The direction of the approaching waves of course impacts on the surf conditions, as for different spots, different swell directions create different wave heights.

If you are planning a surf day, it might be a good idea to do a bit of research on surf forums (or even TripAdvisor) to see what the best swell directions are for your chosen surf spot.

Wave Height

Yes, this is the thing which everyone wants to know and usually the first thing you’ll look for on a surf report. Wave height will depend on both the swell height and swell period.

On a surf report, the wave height information will look something like “4ft at 15 seconds”.

The first number is the wave height. On it’s own it won’t tell you a huge amount. I mean it will tell you the height of the wave of course, but without knowing the swell period, you won’t know how good the conditions actually are.

A swell period of 4-5 seconds will mean weak waves, but a swell period of 15-20 seconds or more will give you some fantastic, powerful waves to hit up!

Wind Direction

Wind is an important part in determining the quality of the waves. The wrong kind of wind can result in choppy conditions which aren;t great to surf in.

To understand the impact of wind, you need to understand onshore wind and offshore wind. We covered them briefly in our surfing dictionary, but we’ll cover them in more detail now.

Onshore wind: This is when the wind is blowing into shore from the water. This can create messy waves and kill otherwise great surfing conditions.

Offshore wind: This is when the wind is blowing from the shore out to sea. Apart from no wind at all, this is the best kind of wind to have.

Watch the wind speed and direction when checking out your surf reports so you can work out when to catch the smoothest waves.


As tides are controlled by the moon generally they are easier to predict and quite a few surf watches come with pre-programmed tide reports so you can plan for tides well in advance.

The importance of tide in reading surf reports can vary from location to location – different locations work better with tides breaking at different points.

More often than not, for beach breaks, a high or medium tide is perfect as low tide will cause waves to break too early. But reef breaks can work better on low tide.

Surf reports will tell you the times of high and low tide, but knowing the best tidal conditions for your chosen surf spot is a huge help.


Now that you know how to read a surf report, go ahead and practice and make some predictions for your next surf adventure. See how well you do!

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The Beginners’ Surfing Toolkit

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