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Surfing is a surface water sport in which the participant is carried by a breaking wave usually on a surfboard to the shore. As well as surfboards surfers make use of kneeboards, body boards, kayaks, surf skis and their own bodies. Derivatives of surfing make use of other elements, such as the wind, these include kitesurfing and windsurfing.

Further sub-divisions reflect differences in surfboard design, such as long-boards and short-boards. Additional Tow-in surfing involves motorized craft to tow the surfer onto the wave, this is associated with big wave surfing, where standard paddling is unwise due to the the waves rapid forward motion.

Surfing was first recorded in Hawaii by Lieutenant James King, who's task it was to complete the journals of James Cook after his death in 1779. However, by this time surfing had already become an integral part of Hawaiian culture [1] with surfers riding waves lying down or standing on long hardwood boards.

Surfing was as much as a part of Hawaiian life as many major sports are part of western life today. It permeated every part of Hawaiian society including religion and myth. Hawaiian Chiefs would demonstrate their leadership by the skills they possessed on the surf.

The Science of Surfing Waves

Several factors influence the shape and quality of breaking waves. These include the bathymetry of the surf break, the direction and size of the swell, the direction and strength of the wind and the ebb and flow of the tide.

Swell is generated when wind blows consistently over a large area of open water, called the wind's fetch. The size of a swell is determined by the strength of the wind, the length of its fetch and its duration. So, surf tends to be larger and more prevalent on coastlines exposed to large expanses of ocean traversed by intense low pressure systems.

Local wind conditions affect wave quality, since the rideable surface of a wave can become choppy in blustery conditions. Ideal surf conditions include a light to moderate strength "offshore" wind, since this blows into the front of the wave.

The factor which most determines wave shape is the topography of the seabed directly behind and immediately beneath the breaking wave. The contours of the reef or sand bank influence wave shape in two respects. Firstly, the steepness of the incline is proportional to the resulting upthrust. When a swell passes over a sudden steep slope, the force of the upthrust causes the top of the wave to be thrown forward, forming a curtain of water which plunges to the wave trough below. Secondly, the alignment of the contours relative to the swell direction determines the duration of the breaking process. When a swell runs along a slope, it continues to peel for as long as that configuration lasts. When swell wraps into a bay or around an island, the breaking wave gradually diminishes in size, as the wave front becomes stretched by diffraction. For specific surf spots, the state of the ocean tide can play a significant role in the quality of waves or hazards of surfing there. Tidal variations vary greatly among the various global surfing regions, and the effect the tide has on specific spots can vary greatly among the spots within each area. Locations such as Bali, Panama, and Ireland experience 2-3 meter tide fluctuations, whereas in Hawaii the difference between high and low tide is typically less than one meter.

In order to know a surf break, one must be sensitive to each of these factors. Each break is different, since the underwater topography of one place is unlike any other. At beach breaks, even the sandbanks change shape from week to week, so it takes commitment to get good waves (a skill dubbed "broceanography" by California surfers). That's why surfers have traditionally regarded surfing to be more of a lifestyle than a sport. Of course, you can sometimes be lucky and just turn up when the surf is pumping. But, it is more likely that you will be greeted with the dreaded: "You should have been here yesterday." Nowadays, however, surf forecasting is aided by advances in information technology, whereby mathematical modelling graphically depicts the size and direction of swells moving around the globe.

The regularity of swell varies across the globe and throughout the year. During winter, heavy swells are generated in the mid-latitudes, when the north and south polar fronts shift toward the Equator. The predominantly westerly winds generate swells that advance eastward. So, waves tend to be largest on west coasts during the winter months. However, an endless train of mid-latitude cyclones causes the isobars to become undulated, redirecting swells at regular intervals toward the tropics.

East coasts also receive heavy winter swells when low pressure cells form in the sub-tropics, where their movement is inhibited by slow moving highs. These lows produce a shorter fetch than polar fronts, however they can still generate heavy swells, since their slower movement increases the duration of a particular wind direction. After all, the variables of fetch and duration both influence how long the wind acts over a wave as it travels, since a wave reaching the end of a fetch is effectively the same as the wind dying off.

During summer, heavy swells are generated when cyclones form in the tropics. Tropical cyclones form over warm seas, so their occurrence is influenced by El Niño & La Niña cycles. Their movements are unpredictable. They can even move westward, which is unique for a large scale weather system. In 1979, Tropical Cyclone Kerry wandered for 3 weeks across the Coral Sea and into Queensland, before dissipating.

The quest for perfect surf has given rise to a field of tourism based on the surfing adventure. Yacht charters and surf camps offer surfers access to the high quality surf found in remote, tropical locations, where tradewinds ensure offshore conditions. Since winter swells are generated by mid-latitude cyclones, their regularity coincides with the passage of these lows. So, the swells arrive in pulses, each lasting for a couple of days, with a couple of days between each swell. Since bigger waves break in a different configuration, a rising swell is yet another variable to consider when assessing how to approach a break.

Wave intensity classification

The geometry of tube shape can be represented as a ratio between length and width. A perfectly cylindrical vortex has a ratio of 1:1, while the classic almond-shaped tube is nearer 3:1. When width exceeds length, the tube is described as "square".

Surf breaks can be grouped according to their intensity. There are two variables to consider in determining the intensity of a surf break: the shape of the tube and the angle of the peel line. Tube shape indicates the degree of upthrust, which is roughly proportional to the volume of water being thrown over with the lip. The angle of the peel line reflects the speed of the tube. A fast, "down the line" tube has a peel line with a smaller angle than a slower, "bowly" tube.

Classification parameters

Tube shape defined by length to width ratio
Square: <1:1
Round: 1-2:1
Almond: >2:1
Tube speed defined by angle of peel line
Fast: 30°
Medium: 45°
Slow: 60°
Wave intensity table
Fast Medium Slow
Square The Cobra Teahupoo Shark Island
Round Speedies, Gnaraloo Banzai Pipeline

Almond Lagundri Bay, Superbank Jeffreys Bay, Bells Beach Angourie Point

Artificial Reefs
The value of good surf has even prompted the construction of artificial reefs and sand bars to attract surf tourism. Of course, there is always the risk that one's holiday coincides with a "flat spell". Wave pools aim to solve that problem, by controlling all the elements that go into creating perfect surf, however there are only a handful of wave pools that can simulate good surfing waves, owing primarily to construction and operation costs and potential liability.

The availability of free model data from the NOAA has allowed the creation of several surf forecasting websites.

Surfers and Surf Culture

Surfers represent a diverse culture based on riding the naturally occurring process of ocean waves. Some people practice surfing as a recreational activity while others demonstrate extreme devotion to the sport by making it the central focus of their lives.

The sport has become so popular that surfing now represents a multi-billion dollar industry. Some people make a career out of surfing by receiving corporate sponsorships, competing in contests, or marketing and selling surf related products, such as equipment and clothing. Other surfers separate themselves from any and all commercialism associated with surfing. These soul surfers, as they are often called, practice the sport purely for personal enjoyment and many even find a deeper meaning through involving themselves directly with naturally occurring wave patterns and subscribe to ecocentric philosophies, or ecosophies.

Surfing begins with the surfer eyeing a rideable wave on the horizon and then matching its speed (by paddling or sometimes, in huge waves, by tow-in). A common problem for beginners is not even being able to catch the wave in the first place, and one sign of a good surfer is being able to catch a difficult wave that other surfers cannot.

Once the wave has started to carry the surfer forward, the surfer quickly jumps to his or her feet and proceeds to ride down the face of the wave, generally staying just ahead of the breaking part (white water) of the wave (in a place often referred to as "the pocket" or "the curl"). This is a difficult process in total, where often everything happens nearly simultaneously, making it hard for the uninitiated to follow the steps.

Surfers' skills are tested not only in their ability to control their board in challenging conditions and/or catch and ride challenging waves, but also by their ability to execute various maneuvers such as turning and carving. Some of the common turns have become recognizable tricks such as the "cutback" (turning back toward the breaking part of the wave), the "floater" (riding on the top of the breaking curl of the wave), and "off the lip" (banking off the top of the wave). A newer addition to surfing has been the progression of the "air" where a surfer is able to propel oneself off the wave and re-enter.

"Tube riding" is when a surfer maneuvers into a position where the wave curls over the top of him or her, forming a "tube" (or "barrel"), with the rider inside the hollow cylindrical portion of the wave. This difficult and sometimes dangerous procedure is arguably the most coveted and sought after goal in surfing.

"Hanging Ten" and "Hanging Five" are moves usually specific to longboarding. Hanging Ten refers to having both feet on the front end of the board with all ten of the surfer's toes off the edge, also known as noseriding. Hanging Five is having just one foot near the front, and five toes off the edge.

Common Terms
Regular foot - Right foot on back of board
Goofy foot - Left foot on back of board
Take off - the start of a ride
Drop in - dropping into (engaging) the wave, most often as part of standing up
Drop in on (or "cut off") - taking off on a wave in front of someone else (considered inappropriate)
Duck dive - pushing the board underwater, nose first, and diving through an oncoming wave instead of riding it
Snaking - paddling around someone to get into the best position for a wave (in essence, stealing it)
Bottom turn - the first turn at the bottom of the wave
Shoulder - the unbroken part of the wave
Cutback - a turn cutting back toward the breaking part of the wave
Fade - on take off, aiming toward the breaking part of the wave, before turning sharply and surfing in the direction the wave is breaking towards
Over the falls - When a surfer falls and the wave carries him in a circular motion with the lip of the wave, also referred to as the "wash cycle", being "pitched over" and being "sucked over" because the wave sucks you off of the bottom of the reef and sucks you "over the falls."
Pump - an up/down carving movement that generates speed along a wave
Stall - slowing down from weight on the tail of the board or a hand in the water
Floater - riding up on the top of the breaking part of the wave
Hang-five/hang-ten - putting five or ten toes respectively over the nose of a longboard
Hang Heels - Facing backwards and putting the surfers' heels over the edge of a longboard.
Re-entry - hitting the lip vertically and re-rentering the wave in quick succession.
Switch-foot - having equal ability to surf regular foot or goofy foot -- like being ambidextrous
Tube riding - riding inside the curl of a wave
Carve - turns (often accentuated)
Off the Top - a turn on the top of a wave, either sharp or carving
Snap - a quick, sharp turn off the top of a wave
Fins-free snap - a sharp turn where the fins slide off the top of the wave
Air/Aerial - riding the board briefly into the air above the wave, landing back upon the wave, and continuing to ride.

Surfing can be done on various pieces of equipment, including surfboards, bodyboards, wave skis, kneeboards and surf mat. Surfboards were originally made of solid wood and were generally quite large and heavy (often up to 12 feet long and 100 pounds / 45 kg). Lighter balsa wood surfboards (first made in the late 1940s and early 1950s) were a significant improvement, not only in portability, but also in increasing maneuverability on the wave.

Most modern surfboards are made of polyurethane foam (with one or more wooden strips or "stringers"), fiberglass cloth, and polyester resin. An emerging surf technology is an epoxy surfboard, which are stronger and lighter than traditional fiberglass.

Equipment used in surfing includes a leash (to keep a surfer's board from washing to shore after a "wipeout", and to prevent it from hitting other surfers), surf wax and/or traction pads (to keep a surfers feet from slipping off the deck of the board), and "fins" (also known as "skegs") which can either be permanently attached ("glassed-on") or interchangeable. In warmer climates swimsuits, surf trunks or boardshorts are worn, and occasionally rash guards ; in cold water surfers can opt to wear wetsuits, boots, hoods, and gloves to protect them against lower water temperatures.

There are many different surfboard sizes, shapes, and designs in use today. Modern longboards, generally 9 to 10 feet in length, are reminiscent of the earliest surfboards, but now benefit from all the modern innovations of surfboard shaping and fin design.

The modern shortboard began its life in the late 1960s evolving up to today's common "thruster" style shortboard, a three fin design, usually around 6 to 7 feet in length.

Midsize boards, often called funboards, provide more maneuverability than a longboard, with more floatation than a shortboard. While many surfers find that funboards live up to their name, providing the best of both surfing modes, others are critical. "It is the happy medium of mediocrity," writes Steven Kotler. "Funboard riders either have nothing left to prove or lack the skills to prove anything."

There are also various niche styles, such as the "Egg", a longboard-style short board, the "Fish", a short and wide board with a split tail and two or four fins, and the "Gun", a long and pointed board specifically designed for big waves.


Surfing, like all water sports, carries the obvious inherent danger of drowning. Although a surfboard may go some way to helping a surfer stay buoyant, it can not be relied on as can be separated from the user. Surfing should be carried out by confident swimmers in case the rider gets into trouble or separated from their board, however, strong currents can quickly over tire the strongest swimmers. Frequently when waves exceed 10 feet (faces), a surfers' surfboard will come to the surface up to 7-15 seconds after the surfer does.

A large amount of injuries, up to 66%[3], are caused via impact of either a surfboard nose of fins to the surfers body. Surfboard fins can cause deep lacerations and cuts as well as bruising due to their shape. While these injuries can be minor, they can open the skin to infection from the sea, groups like SAS campaign for cleaner waters to reduce this risk.

There is also a danger of collision from objects under the water surface. These include sand, coral and rocks. A bad wipe out can cause a surfer to hit these hard causing unconsciousness and other injuries including death.

There are a number of sealife that can cause injuries and even fatalities.

Sharks are one of the most serious dangers to surfers with, many attacks and fatal attacks reported each year. Injuries are can also be caused by many other creatures including, stingrays that swim the sea floor and jellyfish.

Many deaths by shark attack go unrecorded for surfers. They are frequently listed as "lost at sea" in obituaries, yet they were last seen surfing.

Famous surf breaks
Some of the best known surf breaks:

Bells Beach
Jeffreys Bay
Puerto Escondido
Gold Coast Superbank
Cape St. Francis
Banzai Pipeline

Notable surfers
Main article: List of surfers
2005 World Tour Top 10

Kelly Slater (USA) 7962 (World Champion: 1992, 1994-98, 2005-06)
Andy Irons (USA) 7860 (World Champion: 2002-04)
Mick Fanning (Aus) 6650
Damien Hobgood (USA) 6148
Phillip MacDonald (Aus) 6060
Trent Munro (Aus) 5748
Taj Burrow (Aus) 5512
Nathan Hedge (Aus) 5426
CJ Hobgood (USA) 5248 (World Champion: 2001)
Vans Triple Crown Standings 2007

Andy Irons
Joel Parkinson
Mick Fanning
Frederick Patacchia
Taj Burrow
Luke Stedman
Cory Lopez
Bruce Irons
Kelly Slater

Previous world champions

Miki Dora (USA)
Gerry Lopez (USA)
Wayne Lynch (Aus)
David Nuuhiwa (USA)
Eddie Aikau (USA)
Bill Bragg (USA)
Laird Hamilton (USA)
Rob Machado (Aus)
Alan Stokes (UK)

All-time top female surfers (not necessarily in contests)

Rochelle Ballard
Layne Beachley
Lynne Boyer
Bethany Hamilton
Joyce Hoffman
Keala Kennelly
Sofia Mulanovich
Margo Oberg
Jericho Poppler
Cori Schumacher
Rell Sunn
Freida Zamba
(Credit: Wikipedia)


Association of Surfing Professionals - World Tour

Surfrider Foundation

Surfrider Foundation (Australia)

Coastal Watch


Surfing Blog



Coastal Directory

Coastal News Network / The Coastal Channel

Tandem Surfing

Australian Surf Movie Festival


Koby Abberton

Sunny Abberton

Carlie Thornton

Neal Cameron

Brook Sylvester

Richie Vas

Matt Gye

Kelly Slater

Layne Beachley

Sacha Alagich

Dave Rastovich


Surf Rock, Surf Music - What's this wave of music all about? by Greg Tingle

Violent crime wave in South Eastern Suburbs, by Greg Tingle - 13th May 2003

Jump On Board - Group therapy pays off - 27th August 2002

Maroubra Beach Flagged for Development

Into the jaws of a monster - 20th April 2004

Night the thin blue line ran into the Maroubra stomp - 24th December 2002

"Big" Tim Bristow: A personal true tale of Australia's legendary private investigator, by Greg Tingle

The Surf Carnival, by Ross Renwick

The other extreme

Models, Modelling, Brands and Fashion and The Media, by Greg Tingle

Press Releases

Sons Of Beaches (ABC Australian Story)

Media Man Makes Property Splash, by Miller Markson

DVD Network - Finals Footage Surfest

Standing Eight surf and skate come to the Media Man's Rescue!

Oz for a Cause gears up to launch

Australian Surf Movie Festival


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