UNDERSTANDING WAVES FOR PADDLERS
Whenever a group of outrigger paddlers gets together, within minutes the conversation is certain to turn to waves and specifically surfing downwind. For those paddlers starting out on their journey to mastering downwind paddling there can be a lot of misconceptions and confusion. In this
Let’s first talk about all the different factors that come into play in producing waves:
- Fetch – both the length and width of the body of water over which the wind blows will have a resulting effect on the waves. Longer distances will produce large waves while wider fetches will add to more wave direction and variability. My sense is that the length of fetch is an obvious one we all know and understand, but width also plays a significant role.
- Duration and strength of the wind – this one is pretty obvious. The longer the wind blows and the stronger it blows the bigger the wind waves will be and more complexity that will be developed
- Depth of water – The depth of the water will impact the waves. Specifically, waves will get steeper and slower when they begin to experience drag from the sea/lake bottom. In cases where shelves and sandbars exist amongst open water, not only will the waves be steeper and slower as they pass over these, but this will also cause refraction that will impact wave profiles beyond just the immediate area
- Shoreline geography/structures – The shoreline geography combined with the wind direction will have a big impact on the waves. The wind that parallels the shoreline will create clean waves, whereas direct onshore tends to get messier. When wind waves wrap around points they get cleaned up. Break walls and sheer cliffs also have a profound effect by generating rebound waves that can propagate out for miles.
- Currents – when current is opposing the wind direction it will cause the waves to steepen and move slower and when it is moving with the wind it will speed up the waves and might marginally flatten them.
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