What Makes a Wave “Break?”

Ocean waves are one of the most beautiful natural phenomena that we can interact with. Not only are they enjoyable to watch, but they’re even more fun to ride ---that’s why we surf them!

Because no two waves are the same, it makes the fun endless! No single trick or technique is infallible either: you need to have a sense of the wave and right then and there find the right technique to make your ride as fun as possible. So get your gear on, get out your surfboards, screw in your Futures fins, and let’s hit the waves!

What Type of Waves Do Surfers Prefer to Surf? 

There are many types of waves, each defined by their formation, source of energy, and behavior. Among these varying types (deep water, shallow water, Kelvin waves, etc.), breaking waves are the ones that interest surfers the most.

What Makes a Wave “Break?”

Vladimir Kudinov, Point Dume, Malibu, US | Unsplash.com


What makes a wave "break?"

Breaking waves (also known as wave breaks, or surf breaks) are formed at the moment that an ocean wave reaches a critical point and the water flows over on top of itself. Breaking waves can happen anywhere on the surface of the ocean, but the breaking waves that we surf on are found on coastlines

What makes a wave "break?

Jeremy Bishop, Huntington Beach, US | Unsplash.com


As ocean waves approach a coastline, their movement is affected by the gradual (or sudden) changing depth of the seafloor. This change affects a wave’s motion, especially at the base, slowing it down without affecting the movement of the top part of the wave. The water at the base is pushed up making the top part taller and “top-heavy.” The wave begins to rise and lean forward as it nears the shore, and the water at the highest part of the wave flows over, or “breaks” as it crashes into the coastline.


Do waves break left to right? Or, vice versa? 

Waves usually break either to the left or to the right and are pretty consistent at whichever surf spot they’re located. Riding in the same direction the wave is breaking in will give you the best ride. That’s why knowing which direction waves break is important among surfers because it can affect their riding style (and even which gear to use). If you have a goofy stance (right foot forward stance) and the waves break to the right, which board would be better for you? What Future surf fins and setup are best to use for your stance and riding style?

What Makes a Wave “Break?”

Jeremy Bishop, Sea Spray, and Waves | Unsplash.com

The Different Types of Wave Breaks

There are three main types of wave breaks: beach breaks, point breaks, and the ever-dangerous reef break:

  • Beach Breaks
  • A beach break, as its name implies, breaks very close to the beach and is the most accessible (and easy) to ride. Beach breaks are a favorite among surfers. They are forgiving and fun, no matter your skill level. All you need is your favorite board, a great set of Futures surf fins and you’re good to go. The downside? Beach breaks are inconsistent in height and size because they break on sand, which shifts and moves often. 

  • PointBreaks
  • A point break is a type of surf break where the wave hits solid ground or land that juts out into the ocean, like the points of a bay or a peninsula. These obstructions halt the base of the waves quite strongly and the top of the wave rolls inward as it comes to shore (hence, its other name, rolling wave). A point break begins in deep waters and all that depth and momentum produces a tall, beautiful and consistent rolling wave as it reaches the shore. Many of the best surfing spots in the world are point break spots so finding one near you shouldn’t be too difficult. So set up your board with your Futures fins and have fun catching a point break!

    What Makes a Wave “Break?”

    Jeremy Bishop, Sea Spray, and Waves | Unsplash.com


  • Reef Breaks
  • A reef break is created when a deep water wave travels swiftly up to the coastline and comes to a sudden and jarring stop in shallower waters like the top of a continental shelf, or more typically, a large reef. When this happens, all that momentum in the base slows and the top falls over (breaks) creating huge awe-inspiring waves that we call reef breaks. 

    Reef breaks are among the most dangerous types of wave breaks because of the way they are formed and where they are formed. Waters where reef breaks form are very shallow and can hide many dangerous rock and reef formations just underneath the water’s surface. And when the reef breaks peak, they create the iconic hollow barrels---irresistible challenges to all surfers. 

    Be warned: We don’t recommend you to try reef breaks until you’ve gained more surfing experience because even many of the most experienced surfers we know tend to err on the safe side when trying out a reef break or a hollow barrel.

    What Makes a Wave “Break?”

    Jenna Anderson, Newport Beach, US | Unsplash.com


    There you have it:  three types of surfing breaks that you’ll find in many of the best surfing spots around the world. What wave break do you usually ride? Let us know if you have one and in case you haven’t found your favorite yet, go out there and surf on!



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