Surf Kids Lesson 2: Teaching Your Grom How to Read a Surf Report


surf reports dictating surfing conditions

Surf clothes for every oceanside occasion.

Understanding the ocean is an integral, necessary aspect of surfing. Aside from knowledge promoting overall safety in the water, you must know how to time your surf sessions, what to expect in terms of conditions, and where to go to find the best waves for utmost surfing success. Learning how to read a surf report is a primary piece of the surfing puzzle, and that's exactly what I'll teach you and your groms to do.

I covered some of the basic introductory questions on teaching your kids to surf in lesson 1, so if you're ready to take your groms’ surfing journey to the next step, let's talk about surf reports.

What are Surf Reports?

Surf reports are summaries of the wave and weather conditions on a particular day, customized to the locations of various surf spots across the world. These are typically a combination of a live summary and computer data, giving surfers the information needed to dictate the best choice in surf spot for the given session.

A Live Summary

Groms Checking the Surf in the Checkerboard Denim Overalls

A live summary is an overview of the conditions given by someone who has watched the waves with their own eyes. It's an honest, on-site synopsis and a real-time take on the size of the surf and how the tides/winds are affecting the overall conditions. Basically, it's someone telling you if the surf is good, where, and when it might be best.

You might find live surf reports in the form of a social media update, as in someone who has snapped a few pictures of the waves while monitoring the conditions, sharing what they have seen. Or, you can find live surf reports on popular surf forecasting apps, such as Surfline, where reports are provided from cameras allowing their team to watch the waves.

Computer Data

To go along with a human eye, it's always nice to have some definitive data to back things up. This weather and ocean data will tell you:

  • Swell size, period, and direction as reported by buoys.
  • Exact wind speed and direction
  • The current tide
  • Weather conditions (air/water temperature, sun/clouds/rain, etc.)

Computer data is beneficial in remote locations that typically don't have live summaries, as live summaries are reserved for the more popular surf locations. This will help you create your own estimate on where to find the best waves for yourself and your grom based on your data.

This information will provide hints about the personality of the conditions on a set day, so you've just got to apply it, and that's really what learning how to read a surf report is. Then, you can work towards passing this understanding to your surfer kid!

The Components Of a Surf Report

Let's talk about what these various components mean in terms of understanding and applying the information to a surf report.

1. Swell Size and Period

Swell size tells you the average size of the waves, as in the distance between the wave crest and wave trough. This is either presented in a range, such as 1-2 or 3-4 meters, or also in reference to human size. You might hear that the waves are waist to chest high or shoulder to head high.

The swell period is essentially the time it takes between two consecutive waves to reach the exact location. Essentially, how long it took one wave to break after the other, as measured in seconds. A longer swell period (generally over 8 seconds) means that the conditions are clean and organized but typically bigger and more powerful.

Long period swells are generated further out in the ocean, such as from a hurricane, and have more time to build.

swell size

They maintain a different, flatter energy within the water than short period swells, creating bigger wave faces when they reach a sandbar or reef. According to Magicseaweed, "Doubling the period gives about a 50% increase in the height of the breaking waves from the same sized swell", so you can see just how potent the effect of the period is on wave height.

Short swell periods indicate waves created closer to shore, such as from local wind systems. These waves are usually choppier due to this wind and weaker because they have a smaller fetch.

When teaching a grom how to surf, you want to seek out small, safe conditions. They really don't need much in terms of size, so surf reports in the 0-1 meter range are ideal. In this size range, the swell period won't have too much impact, so you can worry about this more once they start charging bigger waves!

Teaching lesson:

When teaching your grom how to read a surf report, help them recognize the importance of surfing only in our comfort and skill zones. Outline what swell sizes are safe as they get older and progress their surfing, and use these sizes to set goals! To help them understand the swell period, give them the traffic metaphor.

The further the distance between cars on a highway, the safer the road conditions, as in you have more time to react and slow down. Cars driving close together make things congested and difficult and give less time to react. This is the same for swell periods, as longer swell periods give surfers more time between waves to paddle, catch their breath, and adjust to the waves!

grom surfing

Bryxton Showing You Don't Need a Lot of Size to Surf!

2. Swell Direction

Swell direction refers to the direction the swell is moving from the open ocean. It's measured in degrees and referenced with cardinal points (north, east, west, south).

Let me say this part again: swell direction tells you which direction the swell is coming from and not the direction it is moving towards. For example, a swell coming from the north, and therefore moving towards the south, is deemed 'a north swell'.

Swell map for swell direction surf report

The Arrows Indicate Swell Direction

The swell direction will give you insight as to which area of the coast will best receive the swell and provide insight as to how land masses or certain angles of a cove will affect wave quality. Generally speaking, the more in line a coast is with the direction, the better it will receive the waves. When looking at a swell direction map, you want the arrows to point directly towards the surf spot and learn which locations receive various directions best through experience.

Teaching Lesson:

To better explain the swell direction to your grom, try the puzzle metaphor. A piece only works when it can fit directly into another piece, right? This is similar to swell direction, as a swell direction that fits into an area of coastline, just like a puzzle, will receive the best waves from that swell.

Have your grom look at local surf spots on the map, and try to have them draw arrows into these zones. Then, allow them to determine which swell direction would make for the best waves, aka, which direction are these arrows coming from?

3. Wind Direction and Speed

winds for surf reports

The winds aren't part of the ocean, but they sure as heck affect the quality of the waves. Wind direction, like swell direction, is the measurement of where the winds are coming from, not the direction they are moving. So again, a west wind is coming from the west and technically blowing towards the east.

Winds, concerning how to read a surf report, are generally categorized by surfers in two ways:

  1. Offshore winds
  2. Onshore winds

Offshore winds are the best for surfing. These winds blow towards the wave's face, helping to create open lines, clean conditions, and even the elusive barrel. So surfers on the East Coast love west winds!

Onshore winds categorize winds from the ocean moving toward the land, meaning they create choppy conditions by blowing on the backs of the waves, leading to less desirable and messier conditions.

Wind speed, of course, measures how hard the wind is blowing. The lighter the wind, the better the surf! Strong offshore wind can still create good waves, but nothing beats a calm day with a light, almost unnoticeable breeze gently caressing the face.

offshore winds on waves
Onshore winds on waves

Offshore Wind Conditions Vs. Onshore Wind Conditions

Teaching Lesson:

Whenever you are at the beach, try to have your grom determine which direction the wind is coming from and whether or not it is onshore or offshore. Have them look at the waves, flags, or palm fronds swaying in the wind for clues.

For example, clean waves with spray misting off their lips indicate offshore winds, as does a flag pointing towards the shore, so help them learn what this means in direct application to the ocean and also which clues they can use to determine this.

4. Ocean Tides

Last on this list for reading a surf report is the tides. Surf spots are always changing in quality because the tide is always changing, which happens multiple times a day!

It is essential to understand how tides influence various locations when reading a surf report and determining when to go.

Ocean tides for surf reports

Think of it this way, high tide means more water, and waves break with less power over their point of contact on the seafloor. That's why a spot that closes out on low tide (too much power hitting the sandbar at one), might only work on high tide.

On the other hand, some spots simply won't break unless the tide is low enough, or they might become powerful, barreling waves due to the energy ripping on the floor. With sandbars, reefs, and all sorts of intricacies, each spot is unique.

The best thing to do is learn how your surf sports react to different tides through experience and read guides on these locations for professional insight into their behavior.

Teaching Lesson:

Have your groms keep a tide chart and a tide journal. When you visit surf spots, help them record the conditions of the waves with the tide (as well as all other surf report components). Essentially, it's their own version of a live surf report!

This really engages their minds in learning how to read a surf report and creating a deeper connection with the ocean and how surfing is a sport driven by our natural world. It's taking this scientific knowledge and applying it directly to something they love, helping them become a better, well-rounded surfer as they grow never to stop seeking this connection.

Surf Reports Vs. Surfing Forecast

Kids Skateboards to Keep Busy During Flat Spells

I want to briefly mention that a surf report is not the same thing as a surf forecast, although they are hugely related.

A surf report summarizes the wave conditions on a set day, whereas a surfing forecast is a predicted estimation of future conditions. You will use a surf report to dictate your surfing decisions on the day of your session and a surfing forecast to plan future surf endeavors.

Best Surf Forecast App Australia

Where do you find surf reports and surf forecasts? Where can I see the swell charts and wind predictions?

Typically, we stick to two of the favorites:

These are the two most renowned surf forecasting applications in Australia and worldwide. Surfline features surf cams across the globe, so enjoy real-time action from all your favorite spots and live surf reports. Or, watch some locals shredding in Bali or Costa Rica from your couch!

Magicseaweed is excellent for future forecasting, as these models reach up to two weeks in advance to help you plan surf trips and future sessions with your groms.

Download em', visit their sites, mess around on them with your grom, and begin working towards building your understanding of surf reports and how they are an integral part of a surfer's life!

Next, we’re going to move onto surf kids lesson three, where i’ll go over every piece of surfing equipment you’re going to need before hitting the water. And if you missed them, I also just published a few pieces on:

So stick around, check it out, and stay stoked my salty people!


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- Ash, Dev & The Salty Shreds Fam.


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