How to Read a Surf Report: The Ultimate Guide for Surfers

How to Read a Surf Report: The Ultimate Guide for Surfers

Ready to go for a surf? Want to make sure that conditions are right? Then keep reading our guide to learning how to read a surf report. 

A surf report breaks down the ocean conditions, using charts and tables to show the size of waves, swells, and wind speeds. You can check these reports online or on surf apps. 

At first glance, it’s a lot of information to take in, and it can be overwhelming for beginners. Don’t worry, we’ve got you covered! Below, we’ll show you how to read a surf report by breaking down the three key elements.

1. Swell 

The swell data in a surf report will tell you how big the waves are forecasted to be. It breaks the data down into three main parts.


Wave heights will be displayed in feet or meters. Our advice for beginner surfers, stick to waves up to three feet while you hone your skills. 


Swell intervals tell you the time it takes for a set of waves to pass across a fixed point. The intervals are measurements are in seconds. Short period swells, typically driven by prolonged periods of wind, are typically recorded between 4-9 seconds, and long-period ground swells, are in the 10-20+ second range. 


The ideal swell direction will depend on the location of your beach. It’s crucial to know the direction you're beach faces. For example a beach facing west gets better waves if the swell direction is coming from the west.

Here on Emerald Isle, our beaches face south. We get some of the best surfing conditions thanks to hurricanes and offshore nor’easters that push down the coast. 

2. Wind

Knowing the wind direction and velocity is vital for surfing. Pay close attention to these factors.


There are two main types of winds: onshore and offshore. Onshore winds come from the ocean and blow towards the shore, creating a bumpy and textured ocean surface. Offshore winds blow from the land out to sea, and they are ideal for the best surfing conditions, creating clean glassy conditions and typically produce barreling waves. 


When reading a surf report for wind speeds, you are typically looking for the least amount of wind possible. 

3. Tide

The data on tides for a surfing report will depend on the location of your beach. Familiarize yourself with the high and low-tides. They follow the phases of the moon. 

Tides increase fifty minutes each day. So if the low tide is at 5:30 am today, then tomorrow it will be at 6:20 am.

Some breaks work best at high tide and some breaks work best at low, check your favorite spots to get to know which tide they prefer. 

Now You Know How to Read a Surf Report

Now that you understand the basics of how to read a surf report, you are one step closer to catching the wave you have been waiting for. Use this article as a guide with your surf report app to find the best surfing conditions for your next ride. 

Drop us a line at South Swell Surf Shop for more beginner surfing tips, lessons, and gear! 

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