The different types of surf breaks and what to expect at each

Posted on Dec 20, 2016 in Costa Rica Surf Trips

18-dsc_3758Surfing is a sport that will make you feel connected to the ocean like no other. You will be able to feel the full force of this incredible element of nature. The coastline that meets the ocean is almost as important as the water itself. The land is what causes the wave to break. A wave can break in three ways. Breaks are a crucial part of surfing. Surfers have classified breaks into three categories i.e. point breaks, reef breaks, and beach breaks. Knowing these breaks is important to surfers of all skill levels. Let us look at each type of break individually.

Beach break

Beach breaks are the most common ones of the group. They are usually closest to the beach. To be more specific, a beach break is where waves break over a sandy bottom. The sand at a beach break is ever changing and evolving as a result of many factors such as tides, storms and ocean currents. For these reasons, beach breaks can vary widely as a result of the shifting of the sand. Beach breaks can be incredibly difficult to read due to their ever changing nature.

Beach breaks are basically sandbars against which the waves collide. These sandbars, if they line up perfectly, can produce some pretty amazing waves. On the contrary, sandbars can be quite mobile, and it tends to be difficult to locate them. A surfer will be required to paddle around on their surfboard a lot until they can get to where the waves are. Once you gather some experience in spotting beach breaks, you will soon be able to ride these waves when they are at their best. It is an activity that certainly takes some getting used to. Timing is crucial.

A beach break is a very dynamic and unpredictable surf break. There are good days, and there are bad days. There are days when it will be almost impossible to paddle on your surfboard to places where you can find a beach break. A beach break does not have a channel where the water is deeper than the rest of the wave; it will usually be even throughout.

Beach breaks have a sandy bottom which increases their safety level. Because of this, beach breaks are good for people just learning to surf and who want to experiment without the hazards that other breaks can have. The ocean can be an unforgiving place, but that does not mean you cannot enjoy it. Beach breaks offer a rare safety alternative for beginners (although that shouldn’t mean you don’t practice safety first procedures at all times!). A sandy bottom is soft and for beginners who will surely make a lot of mistakes before getting it right; it is relatively a nice place to ‘wipe out. Beach breaks are common which make them a great choice for a learner who desires regularity and ease.

Reef Breaks

Reef breaks are waves that break on coral or shelves of rock. Reef breaks produce hollow barrels quite consistently. Hollow barrels are the most sought after waves in surfing and provide the most thrilling rides of all. One reason for that is because of the added risk level. A hollow barrel has the feeling of a tunnel closing in on you, and you have to get out, on the other hand, using your skill and will. On the danger scale, reef breaks will rank very high, and that is why experienced surfers love them and beginners should steer clear.

Reef breaks offer a consistency to the wave in a variety of ways. For one, reef breaks have a particular wave shape and location of the wave peak. It is very distinct. Another way in which reef breaks are consistent is that they can produce the same type of waves, which are often amazing if the conditions are right, over and over again. Reef breaks are almost all the same because the reef against which they break is not likely to change for a very long time. It will also not shift position as the sand bars that produce beach breaks would hence they are quite predictable. The waves produced are very similar in nature each time.

The primary determinants affecting how waves break over a reef are the swell direction and tide. Reef breaks, as mentioned earlier, can produce barreling waves. One of the reasons is because of what lies underneath. Coral reefs and volcanic rock tend to be incredibly sharp. If they pierce your skin, you are likely to be cut and possibly injured. Reef breaks also produce waves that are much more inclined than beach or points breaks, increasing the angle of descent and the speed which makes them more suited for the experienced surfer.

Less dangerous reef breaks appear because the water over the reefs can be quite shallow. Therefore, the waves will not rise to the heights that they would if the water was deep. Reef breaks, unlike beach breaks, have a deep channel next to the reef which enables a surfer to paddle out to catch the wave.

Reef breaks, as can be guessed from reading the information above, are for experienced surfers only. Even some experienced surfers have reservations about surfing reef breaks. Their danger rating is very high. When one surfs a reef break wave, one has to be very alert and quick. Their sense of timing needs to have been already fine-tuned by surfing smaller waves. An intermediate surfer can try their hand at less dangerous reef breaks with extreme caution. A beginner or amateur surfer should not expect to ride a reef break. However, some beginners do surf smaller reef breaks with the help of an instructor. However, experienced surfers will enjoy the best waves of their lives from reef breaks. You get rounds of perfect waves, often one right after another when the conditions are right.

Point Breaks

A point break is a surf break where land extends out into the sea to form a headland, most often a bay or a peninsula. Yes, that is right, point break is not just the name of a movie. A point break will generally hit the piece of land sticking out and slowly roll in towards land. When a swell comes in from just the right direction and hits the headland, it creates incredible waves that surfers love to ride.

As a result of the way the swell hits the land, point breaks are usually long and well formed. They will usually not close or break in front of themselves. Point breaks provide some of the most consistent spots in the entire world. In addition to offering some of the best shaped waves, they also offer some of the longest rides a surfer will ever experience on a wave. It will seem to go on forever which is what most surfers want in a good ride.

However, point breaks usually offer only one point of take-off. You have to be in that spot or else you will miss the wave. As a result, point breaks are usually crowded by many surfers meaning you will have to wait your turn. Yes, patience is still a virtue.

Point breaks will often travel in one direction for a long time, fizzle out, and then one has to head back again to the headland and catch another one.

For a surfer who wants to experience a point break, quality should be foremost on their minds. It would be wise to wait for the right wave and ride it to the end instead of just jumping on any wave and riding as many as you can. We do get the compulsion to ride as many waves as you can but would it not be better to ride one phenomenal wave than ride several average ones? Well it is your choice!

An amateur or a beginner surfer should not expect to ride a point break, but with the help of an experienced surfer or an instructor, they can go for it. It will not only add to their experience, but it will also give them something to look forward to as they develop their skills and confidence. Intermediate surfers can go for point breaks and enjoy them thoroughly. Point breaks are waves for the good average surfer. They are incredibly useful to help you improve your skill level. Point breaks are also very consistent, and if you find regular spot, a beginner or an amateur can get the hang of it in no time.

For some, surfing is the best sport in the world and we are inclined to agree. Learning more about surf breaks will help you become a better surfer. You know what they say, once a surfer, always a surfer.

Our Costa Rica surf camps will help you improve your skills, whether you’re just learning to surf or are experienced and want to develop your abilities on the water.  We are here to give you an experience like no other, tailored to your needs.


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