Surf Science: An Introduction to Waves for Surfing

Tony Butt and Paul Rus­sell, with Rick Grigg

Surf Science coverWhere do waves come from? What makes every one dif­fer­ent? Why do some peel nicely and oth­ers just close out? Why, some days, do waves come in sets of six, and oth­ers in sets of three? What factors affect the beha­viour of a surf­ing break? Surf Sci­ence answers all these ques­tions and many more. Now in its second edi­tion, this is the first book to talk in depth about the sci­ence of waves from a surfer’s point of view. It fills the gap between surf­ing books and waves text­books, and will help surfers to pre­dict surf. Surf Sci­ence is also a use­ful intro­duc­tion to ocean­o­graphy and the sci­ence of waves.

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Dr Tony Butt star­ted surf­ing in the early 1970s on the south coast of Eng­land. After many years trav­el­ling and won­der­ing where the waves came from, he decided to go back to school, and obtained a PhD in Phys­ical Ocean­o­graphy. He is the author of The Surfer’s Guide to Waves, Coasts and Cli­mates, and has writ­ten many art­icles on the sci­ence of surf­ing and the coastal envir­on­ment. He has a reg­u­lar ocean­o­graphy column in The Surfer’s Path magazine. He is cur­rently a Vis­it­ing Fel­low at the Coastal Pro­cesses Research Group, Uni­ver­sity of Ply­mouth, Eng­land. He runs a wave pre­dic­tion web­site, www​.swell​-fore​cast​.com.

Dr Paul Rus­sell was twice European Surf­ing Cham­pion, and is now Pro­fessor of Coastal Dynam­ics at the School of Mar­ine Sci­ence and Engin­eer­ing, Uni­ver­sity of Ply­mouth, UK.

Rick Grigg pion­eered big-​​wave surf­ing on the North Shore of O’ahu, Hawaii, and is now Pro­fessor of Ocean­o­graphy at the Uni­ver­sity of Hawaii.

  • Pre­face
  • 1 The Para­dox of Impossible Knowledge
  • 2 Large-​​Scale Weather Patterns
  • 3 The Form­a­tion of a Depression
  • 4 The Growth of Waves on the Ocean
  • 5 Propaga­tion of Free-​​Travelling Swell
  • 6 Refrac­tion
  • 7 Wave-​​Breaking
  • 8 How Waves Move Sediment
  • 9 Surf­ing in the Storm
  • 10 Local Winds on the Coast
  • 11 The Tem­per­at­ure of the Water
  • 12 The Tides
  • 13 World Wave Climate
  • 14 Fore­cast­ing the Waves
  • Fur­ther Reading
  • Glossary-​​Index
  • Acknow­ledge­ments

ISBN: 0906720362
2nd edi­tion
Paper­back with flaps
144 pages
30 col­our pho­tos, 54 fig­ures, 13 charts, 7 graphs, 5 tables, 10 boxes
246 x 189mm
First edi­tion pub­lished 26.09.02
Co-​​published in the USA by the Uni­ver­sity of Hawaii Press.
Dis­trib­uted in Aus­tralia and New Zea­l­and by Wood­slane.

an excel­lent resource for surfers who want a simple under­stand­ing of the how’s and why’s of wave cre­ation and surf con­di­tions. …
‘The large-​​scale, world­wide wind/​weather pat­terns were explained excep­tion­ally well … Group propaga­tion was fas­cin­at­ing … There were great explan­a­tions of how bathy­metry (ocean bot­tom con­tour) and refrac­tion helps char­ac­ter­ize waves.’ (his​ur​fad​vis​ory​.com, Octo­ber 2004)

explains in simple, easy to under­stand fash­ion, the dynam­ics behind wave cre­ation, from how swells are gen­er­ated to how topo­graph­ical vari­ables affect wave shape and qual­ity. For that reason alone, it should be a requis­ite read for all coastal act­iv­ists con­cerned about beach and surf pre­ser­va­tion.’ (Surfrider Found­a­tion, Mak­ing Waves, 20–5/15)

holds interest for any­one who loves the sea and wants to under­stand it bet­ter. The authors present soph­ist­ictaed con­cepts such as swell gen­er­a­tion and dis­persal, and the influ­ence of tem­per­at­ure vari­ation and the tides on surf, in access­ible, enga­ging lan­guage’ (The Age, theage​.com​.au, 20.11.04)

jam-​​packed with many help­ful graphs, dia­grams, pho­to­graphs’ (Long­board Magazine, Feb­ru­ary 2005)

with the release of Surf Sci­ence, we now hold all the tech­nical know­ledge we need – at our fin­ger­tips. …
‘… Surf Sci­ence provides read­ers with an easy-​​to-​​read, in depth explan­a­tion of the topic with a spe­cific focus on how the con­di­tions influ­ence our sport.
‘ … This crash course in wave pre­dic­tion not only shows how to read com­plic­ated satel­lite and com­puter mod­els, but it also con­tains a wide-​​ranging list of addi­tional resources for fur­ther study.’ (East­ern Surf, vol. 13:100, Octo­ber 2004)

clearly reaches out to both surfers and those inter­ested in the surf … great color graph­ics and color pho­tos.
‘The book is well-​​written and well-​​organized …
‘Another attract­ive aspect of this book is the his­tor­ical per­spect­ive provided regard­ing wave research.’ (David F. Naar, Asso­ci­ate Pro­fessor, Col­lege of Mar­ine Sci­ence, Uni­ver­sity of South Flor­ida, Ocean­o­graphy, vol. 18, no. 2, June 2005)

Extremely well-​​illustrated and com­piled.’ (Pub­lish­ers Weekly, PW Daily for Book­sellers, 25.08.04)

Sebbene sia scritto in inglese, il libro riesce ad essere sfrut­tab­ilis­simo anche dal pub­blico itali­ano, a patto di avere un min­imo di dimestichezza con la lin­gua. …
’Se vi siete sempre chi­esti da dove ven­gono le onde, che cosa le rende una diversa dall’altra, per­chè alcune rompono per­fettamente mentre altre fanno close-out.…questo è il libro che fa per voi!’ (SingleFin, May 2006)

Praise for the first edi­tion of Surf Sci­ence:

This excel­lent book looks at the sci­ence behind our ocean fet­ish … everything a surfer needs to know about “Large Scale Weather Pat­terns”, “The Growth of Ocean Waves”, as well as chapters on refrac­tion, sand move­ment, local winds, fore­cast­ing meth­ods and much more.

This is sci­ence, but not as you know it. An ocean­o­grapher and big wave rider, Tony is also blessed with an abil­ity to trans­late his extens­ive tech­nical know­ledge and water exper­i­ence into under­stand­able lan­guage for the lay surfer. The graph­ics … are all rel­ev­ant, clearly laid out and easy to inter­pret … there are also … good surf pho­tos in there to pause and fan­tas­ise on.
‘So who would bene­fit from this book? Well, it’s hard to think of a surfer who wouldn’t. If you’re a begin­ner … you’ll learn a whole lot of cru­cial inform­a­tion that will help you under­stand what’s going on.
‘If you’re an exper­i­enced surfer then it’s an ideal book to have on the shelf for either a one-​​time read or, most likely, reg­u­lar ref­er­ence.
‘… we’d recom­mend you buy this book – it can’t hurt to increase our under­stand­ing of the ele­ments that, after all, dic­tate so much of our lives.’ (The Surfer’s Path, Issue 33, October/​November 2002)

Swell fore­cast­ing is one of the most fer­vently dis­cussed top­ics amongst surfers and one of the most poorly under­stood aspects of our life­style. … This is where Dr Tony Butt can save your soul. The man is … a “surf fore­cast­ing guru”. If he doesn’t know it, it isn’t worth know­ing … . Thank­fully he has decided to com­mit his wis­dom on how the hell waves work to paper … . [The book is] aimed squarely at us reg­u­lar joes not egg­heads and is presen­ted in a clear intel­li­gent fash­ion. So hope­fully you’ll learn stuff and it should make your swell pre­dict­ing skills second to none. ’ (Surf Europe, Issue 22, April/​May 2003)
‘Roll over Wil­lard Bascom. … It is time to put away that dog-​​eared copy of Waves and Beaches: The Dynam­ics of the Ocean Surf, because there is a new wave book in town.

If you are the kind of deep-​​thinking surfer who stands against the rail at Mundaka or on the cliffs at Mav­er­icks or on the road up to Com­Sat Hill and looks out over big, power­ful per­fect waves break­ing like per­fect little sol­diers and says not only “Whoa” and “Wow” but “How?” then Surf Sci­ence: An Intro­duc­tion to Waves For Surf­ing is the answer to all your pon­der­ing.
‘… it’s all here in this book … it runs the gamut from the strange phys­ics of wave gen­er­a­tion to the very soph­ist­ic­ated sci­ence of com­puter mod­el­ing and satel­lite wave-​​imaging and fore­cast­ing.
‘This is the mod­ern world, and Surf Sci­ence is one of the most soph­ist­ic­ated surf­ing books ever pro­duced. There is a lot of sci­ence and equa­tions in here but Butt and Rus­sell lay it all down for the semi-​​sophisticated lay­man. …
‘By George, Butt and Rus­sell have done it and this book is a must for any surfer whose mes­mer­iz­a­tion by the power and beauty of per­fect waves moves from “Wow” and “Whoa” to “How?”’ (Ben Mar­cus, Surfers Journal, May 2003)

Writ­ten from a surfer’s point of view. Cov­ers all aspects needed by surfers in the­ory, fluid mech­an­ics, ocean sci­ence and coastal effects. Superb, easy to under­stand illus­tra­tions. Good value as it puts all the info you need into one book.
‘Pub­lished in high qual­ity paper­back, col­our, print­ing and lay­out are really top of the range pro­duc­tion. … Highly recom­men­ded, excel­lent value, excel­lent pro­duc­tion’ (Surf­ing Ire­land, May 2003)

For all of you surf­ing egg­heads out there who won­der about swell gen­esis and propaga­tion and get into the slings and arrows of 21st Cen­tury surf fore­cast­ing, there is a very good book called Surf Sci­ence: Intro­duc­tion to Waves For Surf­ing. This is 144 pages of fairly soph­ist­ic­ated ocean sci­ence put down in layman’s terms’ (Surf column, Sunday Santa Cruz Sen­tinel, May 2003)

Surf Sci­ence è stato scritto proprio per il surfista medio che vuole saperne di più. Surf Sci­ence ha il merito di essere il primo libro ad app­roc­ciare lo stu­dio sci­en­ti­fico delle onde dal punto di vista del surfista. Quello che ne esce sono 13 interess­an­tis­simi cap­it­oli tra met­eor­o­lo­gia ed ocean­o­grafia. … Tony rac­conta, col suo stile diver­tente ed asciutto, la splen­dida mac­ch­ina del clima, il sorgere delle basse pres­sioni, la nas­cita del vento e dei suoi effetti sulle acque. … Molto chiari i gra­fici ed I dia­grammi che par­lano di sci­enza senza tir­are mai in ballo for­mule ed equazioni. ’ (Surf News Magazine, 38, Anno 9, numero 2, Marzo/​Aprile 2003)

The authors are well qual­i­fied on their sub­ject – both have PhDs in wave motion and coastal sand trans­port and are avid surfers.’ (Uni­ver­sity of Ply­mouth Upfront, Issue 29, September/​October 2002)

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