Four-foot? 10? Photo: WSL
How Big Is This Wave?
And all the other ones, for that matter.
Ed note: the following is the 634th installment of our new weekly email chain called the Stab Fwd. If you're into it, subscribe here.
Surfing is full of nuances. Today, I would like to discuss one of my favourites: Wave height.
What does a 6-foot wave look like to you?
Is it approximately the size of a person? Twice the size of a person? About the size of a person and a half?
If you answered yes to any of those questions, you are absolutely correct.
Wave measurements are a mess. There is no universal agreement on how the system should work.
The most popular scale is commonly referred to as common sense, but technically referred to as the Bascom Method. It consists of looking at a wave’s face height and estimating the size of it. It was named after oceanographer Willard Newell Bascom. Good stuff, Will. Way to keep it simple.
Then, of course, there’s the Hawaiian scale.
Ask different people about its origins and you’ll get different answers. Most say it’s because Hawaiians traditionally measured a wave by its back, not by its face. Others might tell you it’s a wave’s deepwater height. Think about the back of a bomb at Teahupo’o or the deepwater height of swell before it gets all criss-crossed at Nazare — nobody is true to either of those methods.
There’s even a theory that Hawaiian lifeguards undersold the size of the waves to make tourists less interested in them. Out of all the explanations, this makes the most and the least sense at the same time.
However, as we all know, today’s usage of the Hawaiian scale consists of taking the face height and cutting it in half. Two proportional systems would be easy enough to understand. A wave with a 6-foot face is either a 6-foot wave or a 3-foot wave (“3-foot Hawaiian or 3-foot backs”). But it doesn’t end there. An unexplained in-between scale was spawned somewhere along the way. There are 6-foot waves that are neither 6-foot nor 12-foot — they’re more like 8 or 10.
So, three scales. One rooted in logic. The other two rooted in history, humility, machismo or a mix of everything. But it doesn’t end there.
Picture a 40-foot wave.
There is no fucking chance you pictured a wave with 80 feet of face, even if your 6-foot wave has a 12-foot face.
We all switch to face heights somewhere around the way.
Ok. So, three scales. Two of which break their own rules at some unspecified point typically north of 15 feet. All of which rely on eyeballs and best guesses. And don’t get me started on interpretation — all the equations you must run through when a stranger at a surf camp says it was 8-foot yesterday.
It sounds strange, but shit like this is one of the many reasons why I love surfing. The intricacies, the depth, the obscurities that take you years to intuit. No need to make it coherent when it can simply be our own.
Ok now scroll down for the irreverence.
You know what? Fuck George Hudson. You know who he is? He’s the guy who invented Daylight Saving Time in 1895. Yo George — why you trying to save daylight in the summer, when there’s an abundance of it? Save it in the winter when we hardly have any. This rant is brought to you by my annual frustrated autumnal night surf because the sun went down before I left work.
I don’t understand why pro surfers always feel the need to take stands against oil. Is it perfect? No. But then tell me what is. I prefer to get my advice from experts on topics like this — so, sorry Ace, but I’ll be consulting nutritional scientists before quitting the variety of olive, coconut and sesame oils that I consume on a monthly basis.
Oh but yeah fossil fuels are fucked though.
I was not obligated to put this here. I just thought you may have missed it and would be interested in some free rubber. I’m pretty much Planned Parenthood.
When I was a young man, I dug through a stack of old surf magazines in my parent’s garage and uncovered a nudie mag in the mix. True story. That was a good day. I have not yet met our intern, but he wrote this article about buying a bunch of old issues of Surfer Magazines on Ebay. I hope someday his kin will find them in a dusty box, ignore them completely, then go back to watching pornography through whatever AR glasses are en vogue at the time.
Yes. Always. The harsh reality is that we likely won’t be able to overpower a section and kick the fins above the lip like him, but we can at least try to replicate his bottom turn. This edit is another form of Pentacoastal B-Sides, this time from a trip to Indo. Come for the bottom turn, stay for the fins first takeoff into a tube.
One last thing:
My brain naturally uses the price of surfboards to calibrate the value of all goods and services, and I find that this generally makes me more financially responsible. I can’t be the only one who does this, right?