Which Wave Height Measuring System is the best?

Rant - Which Wave Height Measuring System is the best?

As far as I can tell, the way surfers measure wave heights can be all over the map. After thoughtful consideration, it has been determined that they can be roughly subdivided into four categories.

1) The Hawaiian Method. The Hawaiians measure wave height from the back of the wave. This method results in an under-estimation of most surfers' idea of how wave height should be measured, probably because surfers ride the front of the wave, not the back. If one uses that method, the epic wave in the thumbnail might only be a 10-15 footer. This method is for the Manliest of the Manly.

2) Wave Height = Face Height. This method seems the most intuitive since, as mentioned above, surfers ride the face of the wave. Plus, this is the view seen from the beach and it's the method that most accurately jibes with descriptions from wave cams, surf reporters, beachgoers, surf photographers or dudes checking things out from the parking lot. Using this method, a 5 foot wave is about equal to the height of a dude standing on his surfboard.

3) the buoy method. The wave heights are equal to the number of feet reported by the buoy, no matter what the waves look like when they get to the beach. The Beard is a disciple of this method with the proclamation, "the buoys don't lie".

4) the lkilpatrick method. This method is used to calculate waves which are X times overhead (the dimension 'foot' is completely discarded). Using this method, the top of an OH wave is as tall as a dude lying on his surfboard paddling out. A 3X OH wave is 3X as tall as the dude lying on his board. Surfers (and some non-surfers) use this method when attempting to impress chicks at bars, non-surfing friends, relatives and co-workers gossiping at the water cooler.

Which method do you use?


4 years ago

I like to use method #4, especially when trying to impress girls with epic tales of the Brown Wave at Lindamar.

4 years ago

I think there should be a new metric. Pancake(fish) stack size. All reports maybe should have that as an input in the submission form: ___ pancake fish high.

4 years ago

It depends on the situation, if some other guy is trying to impress the ladies using the lkilpatrick method I swoop in and go Hawaiia'n, example:
Lady: You surf?
Kook: Ya I like to get out in the water at least 4 times a week it keeps my abs rip, in fact you should have seen me ripping it up today it was a sold 12 feet
Me: Ya right bro, it was like 3 feet max. Stop trying to impress this chick with your surf fairy-tales.

If I'm chatting up a chick I use the lkilpatrick method and tack on 3 feet for good measure.

When talking to a seasoned surfer I take the face height double it and then divide by 2.

Wave Glider
4 years ago

Teahupo'o is not a wave by its nature, it's a cliff. A wave is something that builds up over a distance ether by wind, and the pushing 'up' of water so as to cause it to crest, thus break, or pitch foreword. Teahupo'o simply 'drops' out from under.

If I have my longboard, 9'6", I approach the wave, slide off, stand it up, and measure it by the foot marks I have Sharpie'd on the rails.

4 years ago

Shelfs and shallow reefs don't lend themselves to method 1 & I could see someone calling that 8-10 Hawaiian (it's all front, no back), whereas it could easily be called DOH pushing TOH. It seems like the qualifier is sometimes more important than the height. Some heavy 5-8 foot days I don't feel like paddling out, whereas some days it could be easy(defined channels, rips that put you in the lineup), fun and pushing DOH on sets(long period) every "X" minutes, where X is predictable, dry hair paddle on a day with size. Buoy in feet means nothing without a period reading and a swell direction. Getting a short report on Buoys is kind of opening a can of worms because certain beaches will catch it, others not at all, other beaches only "accept" swells at a certain period and from a certain direction. BUT, if i surfed it yesterday and everything is similar and I know I'm going to the same beach and especially to avoid misinterpretation : buoy & period & swell direction, or something like SH-HH.

Then, the timing matters. Forecasting out a week you're not even able to use any of those methods and it's only sustained winds of "X"mph blowing in such and such direction(Method #5) . If you are discussing proto-swell with someone chances are that you're going to get good waves because you're on top of it, then you're watching only the local weather and wind.

When I post reports on SR I usually use something like: 2-4, then SH-HH-DOH+, I think that seems easiest.

King of Kooks
4 years ago

I'm old and have come around trying to tell the truth: trough to crest measured from the front; so similarly old friends depending on my info dont get into trouble.

This standard is also helpful if ever discussing boards with a shaper. Why ask for a board suitable for 4 foot Ocean Beach when you're really talking about 8 foot when dealing with actual moving water.

4 years ago

I'll repost my scale here:

Maintenence (sub 6ft)
Fun (6-12ft)
Serious Fun (12-16ft)
Serious (18ft+)

It used to be the bigger the wave, the better. Nowadays I'll take fun surf over serious surf and serious fun over both:

Maintenence < Fun < Serious Fun > Serious

Worrying about the difference between 6-8 or 10-12 feet is just unnecessary quibbling. It's fun, go out!

4 years ago

Here's a surefire way to tell if waves are overhead or underhead:

Stand on the beach near the water's edge, specifically right about where the average sea level height is (shorebreak may filter in and out past your feet, of course). Watch the horizon as a set comes in. If you can still see the horizon above the lip of a wave, that wave is below your eyes. If the wave blocks the horizon, it is at least as tall as your eyes. It will surprise you how much you underestimated wave heights (often times I see waves block the horizon I would've called chest high).

4 years ago

I like to go with..

fun & a little scary...
fun & a lot scary...
no fun all scary...
why is there a stain in the seat of my wetsuit?

mostly I stick to the first two allowing that a sneaker can take to me level 3..
But I surf for fun & learning
not to practice involuntary yoga

++ disclaimer my foot ranges are considerably different than speedy in that speedy'd just be having some fun while I'd be using the anti-bacterial soap on my wetsuit...


4 years ago

I like Hawaiian because it's easier to be in the lineup estimating the size of backs of waves. Just double it for the face height. On heavy OB days if you're inside you are scrambling too hard to really judge face height. Plus last week in SC a little grom made it look double-o easy on the set wave faces. Buoys are only one reference, and almost never definitive on actual breaking wave height. OB can double in wave size north-south.

A related question is for a given lineup, what waves set the height benchmark? Top third? A mid-winter set will shove you back to the beach if you try ride the "average" waves. I base height from the waves you have to position for to stay outside. Factors out the sneaker doubleups, and tweener insiders.

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