Surf Protection
June 13 2014

Wave Protection: More than meets the eye

by Chad Nelsen

From: Surfline's Mechanics of Trestles 

While millions of waves break along the coastlines of the world, it takes a very unique combination of geographic, geologic, meteorological and oceanographic conditions to make a wave surfable. World class surf spots are even more rare.

When thinking about protecting a surf spot, it is easy to focus right on the wave itself but protecting a surf spot is a lot more than that.

Protect the mechanics of a breaking wave

From: Surfline's Mechanics of Malibu

First off, waves break over rocks, reefs, cobbles and sand or some combination of the above. These features are in sensitive balance with coastal processes, sea level and the tides. Alteration of any of those can affect the quality and quantity of surfable waves. That means protecting the watershed (“waveshed”) and coast is an integral part of protecting a wave.

Those waves also have to travel across the ocean as swell before hitting the shoreline and breaking just the way we like them. Offshore development of breakwaters, wave and wind energy facilities, and oil platforms can impact the ability for swell to reach the shore and could alter the formation of waves at the beach.

You can see excellent examples of these factors in Surfline's series on the mechanics of Trestles, MalibuMavericks and Pipeline.

Protecting your ability to surf a wave

If a perfect wave is breaking on a reef but no one is around to surf it, does it barrel?

For a wave to be surfable, surfers need to be able to access that wave and the water needs to be clean enough not to make you sick. If access is blocked or the water is polluted, the wave may as well not exist. Surfers are particularly prone to getting sick from polluted water because we are so immersed in the water while surfing. So protecting beach access and water quality is essential to protect surfing.

Surfing in a healthy ocean

Last, surfing in a healthy ocean with thriving marine life is a fundamental part of the surf experience and in some cases is critical for maintaining waves. For example,  coral reefs are a living coastal habitat that forms some of the best waves in the world. If those reefs die and lose their structure it will affect the quality of those waves. Kelp beds help to smooth out wind chop and who doesn’t enjoy seeing whales, dolphins, otters and sea lions in the line up.

So to protect a wave you need to protect the following:

1. Protect the coastal processes above, in and around the wave.

2. Protect access to the waves.

3. Protect the water quality of the nearshore where the waves are breaking

4. Protect the health of the ocean ecosystem

At Surfrider we focus on all of these elements of wave protection and try to ensure that we utilize a holistic approach to surf and coastal protection. Learn more about Surfrider' strategies to protect waves here.

Surf Protection & World Surfing Reserves from Surfrider Foundation on Vimeo.