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So you have mastered the basics of learning how to surf. Good stuff! But, you are not a pro just yet. First, we need to learn how to read a surf report to catch those waves. If you still need some tips to point you to the right direction, check out our guide on how to surf.

”Basically, a surf report shows where you are most likely to get good waves.”

What is a surf report anyway?

A surf report is a forecast that visually shows the variables in ocean and atmospheric conditions. These factors determine the size and intensity of the waves. The most common factors being swell direction, tides, wave height and wind direction. Basically, it shows where you are most likely to get good waves. The best way to catch waves consistently is to learn how to read a surf report and head over to beaches where the waves are pumping. Make sure that all of the aforementioned factors point out to good surfing conditions. If even one is off, the waves, and your experience on the ocean, will suffer.

While reading a surf report might seem difficult at first, it’s actually relatively simple. Lucky for us, there are plenty of online sources to choose from. 

A good forecast is one where all factors point out to good conditions. If even one is off, the waves will suffer.

What are swells?

Swells are large bodies of water that are generated when the forces of mother nature interact with the sea far away on the ocean. As they reach the mainland and shallower waters, they rise up and form a surfable wave. The size of swells depend on wind strength and duration as well as fetch. Fetch describes the distance of water that the wind blows in one direction. Swells usually occur in sequences, or swell periods which produce sets of waves. The longer the swell period, the more powerful the waves will be. Short period swells are often caused by storms nearby that haven’t traveled long enough to gather strength. 

Swell direction and height

Swell direction determines the direction of where the waves will hit your beach. Let’s say that your favorite beach break is facing west with a swell also originating from the west. This means that the waves would directly hit the beach. If the swell would originate northwest or southwest, the waves would hit the beach at an angle. Thus, the waves would look different when it hits the point break, beach or reef. How this affects the conditions in a specific spot varies immensely.

For example, a long sandy beach can be open to many different swell directions whereas some reefs require a very specific swell to create surfable waves. Another thing to note is that islands in front of the beach can also block some of the swells. That is why the best way to find out is to do some research, try it out yourself or get to know the locals surfers. 

While wave height and swell height are strongly connected to each other, they are not the same thing. More importantly, you have to know how the swell is going to affect the location you are in. Swell height is usually described as the average height of larger waves. However, remember that some of the waves can be even higher.

Swells are created far away from the shore and gain power as they travel towards the mainland.

Wave height

Now we’re getting to the good stuff. Usually the number one question on every surfer’s mind is ”how big is it?”. We’re talking about wave height of course. Surf reports reveal the average height of upcoming waves and the time between them. The data is measured by offshore buoys and updated every 20 minutes. We suggest you keep a close eye on swell intervals. The longer the intervals are, the more more powerful (and big) the wave will be. 


A 3ft wave at 5 second interval is nothing to write home about.
If the surf reports are saying 3ft in 15 second intervals – it’s on! 

”We suggest you keep a close eye on swell intervals. The longer the intervals are, the more more powerful (and big) the wave will be”

Tides are controlled by the moon

There are two high tides and two low tides every day. Tides affect the depth of the water and play a huge part in how waves are formed. Some locations work better on high tide while others may only be accessible during low tide. Surf breaks can be known as either low tide or high tide spots and it describes when to catch the best waves. However, this does not mean that there won’t be waves at all even on different tides. This can take a while to figure out and the best way to be sure is to ask the locals. 

Usually, a good rule of thumb is that most beach breaks work well at medium to high tide. On low tide some sand bars may be too shallow which can make the wave break all at once. Reef spots often work best on low and medium tide. The reason for this is that the swell needs traction to grow into a surfable wave. Just look out for sharp corals and rocks. If you want a more in-depth guide on how waves break, you can read more here. 

Local wind conditions

Aside from swells, surfing conditions are also dependent on two different wind conditions; off shore wind and on shore wind. Ideally you would have no wind to cause any choppiness on the surface. These glassy conditions are perfect for surfing – just like fresh powder is for snowboarding. 

Off shore winds can be great for surfing

Aside from still conditions, off shore winds produce the best waves for surfing. The reason for this is that the winds blow towards the ocean producing a smooth surface on the water. You might even be able to catch some barrels with the help of off shore winds. However, if the wind is too strong you might have trouble catching a wave. Additionally, the wave can also splash water into your eyes and hinder your visibility. 

On shore winds can create choppy waves 

On shore winds blow towards the shore and create small and choppy waves. This happens when the wind breaks up swells as they come toward the shore. This, of course, is not ideal for surfing. What we are looking of is a clean surf. However, if you like doing aerial tricks or want to practice them, on shore winds can help your board stay under your feet. 

The best conditions and time to go out on the water depends on the surf spot. Often times mornings are the best for glassy conditions with low wind.

Where to look for a surf report?

It is important to remember that just like ”regular” forecasts, surf reports are also based on science. While most of the time forecasts are relatively accurate, there are also many variables at play. That’s why swell sizes and their arrival can be different from the original forecast. Same goes for temperatures and winds. When you are working with mother nature, you should also be prepared for some drastic changes every now and then. So, the surf report shows the best possible evidence to work with when chasing waves. 

Here are some of our favorite websites to search for surf reports. You can also all of them together to get an even more accurate forecast. 

Magicseaweed has their own website for surf forecasts that looks clean and is easy to understand. They are also reliable and offer data from a huge variety of locations in a simple package. Our favorite is the swell height calculator for easy wave hunting. Just sign up and enjoy!

Surfline is one of the most well-known sources for surf reports. And rightly so! They offer up-to-date information worldwide in a package that is very easy to understand. The best part about Surfline is it’s accuracy. So, if you’re ready to learn how to read a surf report, this is a great place to start. What’s not to love?

Last, but definitely not least, Swellinfo also packs an impressive amount of valuable information for every surfer’s needs. Their website works and looks great which makes it a joy to use. What we are most excited for is how the wave height is measured according to the human body. They’ll also recommend you the best board for that specific condition. How cool is that?

Did you learn anything new on how to read a surf report? Let us know in the comments below.

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