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Friday, 2 May 2008

Measuring wave Height

There we were, sat in the campsite, discussing wave height from that days session and between the three of us the same waves might as well have been on different sides of the planet. They ranged from 2ft, to 4ft to "overhead". It's a conversation held between surfers for generations and no one can ever really agree. However I have discovered the answer and the following may help:

Wave height definitions.
1. Wave buoys. These give an accurate reading of open ocean deep water swells, which are measured crest to trough, but when the swell hits the beach, the size is determined by the Bathymetry (bottom contours), which vary greatly. A reef is going to kick up a bigger wave on the same swell compared to a beach break. So wave buoys are an indicator.
2. The Hawaiian method (not to be confused with the rhythm method). This is measured from the back of the wave and is not at all accurate. Some waves have hardly any back at all, for example Teahupoo, which measured on a Hawaiian scale would be a 2ft wave, whilst on the other side of the wave riders are buried in cavernous barrels big enough to drive a truck through. The Hawaiian scale is more about showing who has the biggest cahones and is a way of scaring visiting haoles!
3. Surfer scale. This is generally used by surfers based on body heights, ie a knee height wave is 1ft, waist is 2ft, shoulder 4ft, overhead 6ft etc. But again this only provides an indication for obvious reasons, short riders who crouch a lot are going to get loads more overhead days than a tall surfer.
4. Wave face: This is the measurement from the wave lip down the curling face to the base of the trough. Using wave face is when measurements get silly. I've been out on 4ft days and guys are claiming 10ft faces. Waves like Cyclops in WA aren't that "tall" in the traditional sense but have massive wave faces as the lip really throws out.
5. Wave height. This is measured from the land and denotes the height of the wave crest. Again this is almost impossible to determine and it doesn't take into account wave face etc.

There are some scientific formulas out there to measure waves (and technical drawings like mine above :), but surfers will never ever agree, unless they refer to the following answer for measuring wave height:

Wave height "You can either over estimate or you can under estimate" .... simple really

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