Knowing your surf spot!

Learn more about the waves, the ocean and surfing breaks perfect for all surfing levels

Rips and Sweeps

Waves

For the beginner, these concepts are both hard to comprehend and scary. Once you understand how they work and learn to read the surf, however, they can help you identify the best spots to paddle out and surf.

When a wave is created, the water rushes into shore. Once here, a ‘rip’ is formed. This is a channel of water heading back out to sea. These can range from a weak pull to a strong current.

The most important thing to remember is that it will only go as far as the breaking waves. If you are caught in one, you shouldn’t panic. You are not, in fact, going to be washed away to China. Instead, rather than trying to swim against it, turn in the direction the rip is going and paddle up and across it to the breaking waves. Once here, you can get a wave in.

‘Sweeps’ are similar to rips, except the body of water moves across the beach. These can also range from strong to weak. When you paddle out, you should pick out a landmark on the shore to use as your ‘marker’. That way if there is a sweep and you drift down the beach a little, you can tell how far you’ve gone and also where to paddle back from.

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Understanding the waves

Waves are formed from two things. Firstly, wind, which pushes the waves. Ever wondered what other surfers are on about when they say ‘on shore’ or ‘off shore’? It’s actually quite simple. When the waves are being pushed into shore from behind by a strong ‘on shore’ wind, they soon crumble and become messy, or as we surfers call it, ‘blown out’. By comparison, an ‘off shore’ wind comes from the shore towards the ocean, smoothing the waves over and making them clean, glassy and a pleasure to ride.

The second element in forming waves is the different formations at the bottom of the ocean. These can include rocks, sand banks and reefs, both natural and man-made. When the wind passes over these, the different surfaces cause a surge and hence, waves are created.

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Supertubes Point Break

Point Break

This isn’t the Keanu Reeves movie, but a favourite break of many beginners. A point break is formed when the wind pushes waves over rocks under the surface of the ocean. An important feature is that because rocks are permanent, the waves will always break in the same place. Whilst care must be taken when surfing around rocks, if the tide isn’t too low there should be enough water over them to ensure you don’t hurt yourself.

On the side of the point break there is normally a ‘shoulder’, and a light rip, which is water traveling back out to sea. You will be able to spot it as there are no waves breaking there. This is the spot where you will paddle out (remember, rips only go out as far as the breaking waves). From here you can paddle across into the take off zone.

The waves will hit the rocks and then roll away from them. For example if the rocks were to the left the waves would break from left to right, or vice versa. Occasionally you will get a set of rocks where it breaks in both directions, in which case you sit to either side of them and wait for the waves.

The biggest advantage of point breaks are that they create a nice, fatter ‘spilling’ wave. It gives the surfer more time to get to their feet, and a smooth face to practice their turns. In small conditions it’s the ideal wave for long boarders, and also excellent for beginners. In large conditions its good for experienced surfers when the beach breaks are messy and ‘blown out’.

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Muizenberg Beach Break

Beach Break

Most stretches of beach are composed of sand banks. The wind goes over these and creates waves. In between sand banks you will see ‘rips’, where the waves are not breaking and the water may be a little discoloured. This is simply where the water runs back out to sea after coming in as a wave. Again, a rip only goes out as far as the breaking waves, so you can use this to paddle out the back.

The thing that makes beach breaks harder is that the sand banks are not a permanent fixture of the beach. You may get used to surfing a particular bank, come back in a few weeks and find it isn’t there anymore. You can’t stay in the same place the whole time like you can with a point break, which means more paddling than most novices are used to. Finally, the waves are steeper, and less fat.

A beginner can still have a lot of fun on the whitewash (waves that have already broken) but to take the drop on a green wave they must get to their feet quickly or otherwise have the ability to turn and ‘cut across’ a wave. A beginner must be patient in learning to ‘read’ the waves and may not be successful straight away. It’s important to have a good attitude.

Beach breaks are popular for short boarders as it is a faster, more explosive wave and requires less effort to catch. In small conditions it is good for long boarders when the points are small. In large conditions it is ideal for experienced short boarders and those on small mini-mals.

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Reef Break

Reef Break

For experienced surfers only. The waves break over a razor sharp reef bottom, leaving little room for error. However, for the big wave surfers, reefs can provide the ultimate thrill of huge barrels. Just think of Teahupoo and Pipeline. However, the dangers are very real. Reef is rarely smooth like rocks are, and these breaks are often far away from land (unlike beach and point breaks). Add in the possibility of sharks, severe injury and fear, and it’s a potent mix many surfers steer clear of.

 

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