What Is Good Surf?

When you’re learning to surf you’ll spend the majority of your time practising in the white-water BUT as you become more advanced you will need to understand which conditions allow waves to break and peel cleanly. Without a peeling wave you cannot surf properly.

Anchor Point, Morroco by MSW/Surf Berbere

Anchor Point, Morroco by MSW/Surf Berbere

The biggest factors which influence surf’s quality are wind and the tide… The surf is always there – if there’s swell – but these factors make or break a session.

Offshore or Onshore?

The wind is generally the deciding factor between good and poor quality conditions. The wind determines how the waves form and then break.

  • An offshore wind (blowing across the land towards the ocean) is perfect for surfing. It causes the waves to break more slowly and cleanly, making them well formed.
  • An onshore wind (blowing from the ocean and onto the land) is the worst kind of wind for surfing. It makes the waves break quickly and messily, causing the waves to form with no shape and close out or back off.
  • A cross shore wind is also fine, but a few degrees onshore and clean lines are quickly broken up.
  • If you want a decent wave you want to surf with an offshore wind.


The tide determines the shape of the waves. This is because a wave breaks when it travels into shallower water. The contour of the seabed and where the waves break will change as the tide changes. This defines the shape of the breaking wave.

There are several different types of break:


A beachbreak is when the waves are breaking on a sandy seabed. This type of wave is the best to start learning to surf on.


Beachbreak at Croyde, England by MSW/Alex Sutton


A reefbreak is a wave breaks over a coral reef or rocky seabed. These waves are generally the most powerful and dangerous due to the abrupt change from deep to shallow water creating hollow, plunging waves.

Reefbreak at Aussie Pipe (Summercloud Bay), NSW by MSW/rodmelbourne


A shorebreak is a wave that breaks on, or very close to the shore. This happens when the beach is very steep at the shoreline.


Shorebreak at Hossegor, France by MSW/jamesrobertsonnz


A pointbreak refers to a wave that hits a point of land, rocks, sand or shingle jutting out or cutting into the coastline.

Pointbreak at Anchor Point, Morroco by MSW/Surf Berbere

Pointbreak at Anchor Point, Morroco by MSW/Surf Berbere

Left or Right Wave?

A wave is either a left or a right, depending on which direction the wave breaks –defined from the point of view of the surfer.

If a surfer is paddling out to catch a wave and it is breaking from left to right (and the surfer will have to turn right to catch it) then the wave is a right. The same would obviously apply to a left hand wave. It is always from the surfer’s point of view.

An A-frame peak is when a wave breaks and forms a wave both left and right. Two surfers can surf it at the same time in opposite directions. It is generally accepted that you shout, “left” or “right” to stake your claim on the wave’s direction.