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How to Read a Wave [Infographic]

by Cornish Wave Surf School

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For most, waves are full of mystery. You can’t really predict how they’re going to act and you can’t know much about them until they’re quite close! Or can you?  

As you brush up on your surfing skills, the more surf notions and attributes you will require in the water. But can you really read and assess waves? Our friends over at Cornish Wave believe that you can, and they were kind enough to share their knowledge with BookSurfCamps.com! Check out their infographic on how to read a wave



  1. As the wave approaches, ask yourself “Is the wave steep enough to land on me?”

If the answer is ‘Yes’, then you need to take cover. If you see a wave that you do not wish to catch, then the safest place to be is behind the wave, in deep water. So, when you see that fierce wave approaching, paddle towards the horizon and into the safety of deep water. 

  1. Where is the peak going to break?

From the safety of deep water, observe the wave. Watch it until it breaks. Did it break where you anticipated? If not, what was the distance between where it broke and where you thought it would break? Fine tune your estimations.

  1. How to tell if a wave is going to break right or left?

When a wave is approaching, observe its peak. Which side of the peak has the steepest angle down to the water? The side of the peak with the steepest angle is usually the direction in which the wave will break. 

  1. What is a left-hand breaking wave?

The direction of the wave is as the surfer rides it, which means it is opposite to what you would see on the beach.

A left-hand break is when the angle sloping down the face of the wave is to the right of the peak. The wave will break to the left.

A right-hand break is when the angle of the wave is sloping to the left. The wave will break to the right. 

  1. What is a close out? How do you know when a wave will close out?

When you see a wave with no distinct angle on either side of its peak, this is usually a sign that the wave is about to break or close out. 

  1. How to increase your wave count?

As you observe the waves, either from the beach or from the safety of deep water, make a mental note of the time between sets of waves. Be actively paddling when you estimate that a new set is approaching. 

As you paddle towards the peak, assess the wave. Don’t just sit and wait. Assess the waves early.


As you can see, it is possible to assess, anticipate and read a wave. So, the next time you go surfing, make sure you put the above tips and notions to good use. Now get out there and start practicing!

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