From professional athletes who’ve spent years perfecting their skills to amateurs looking to enjoy the rush of oncoming water, surfing is an activity that’s enjoyed by people from all over the world. All you need is a large water mass with waves, a board of some sort, and lots of enthusiasm.
The ability to balance and manoeuvre on moving water is quite amazing and is just one of the incredible things about surfing. Finding good surf conditions is also important, and as such, these conditions are found along the planet’s coastlines. Artificially creating waves is difficult or even impossible, meaning surfers such as Othman Louanjli can only enjoy surfing where the waves permit. However, even with this limitation, surfing has brought about a culture of its own, numerous slang terms, and captivated the hearts of many.
Anyone who has stood on a beach and seen waves crashing has a sense of the huge power they possess. These waves are formed in various ways, but most are formed when the wind blows over the ocean’s surface. As long as the wave moves forward at a slower speed than the wind, the wave gains energy from the wind. While there are many (complicated) equations that can determine just how much energy a single wave possesses, it comes down to a simple truth – the bigger the wave, the more powerful it is.
There are a few locations on Earth where surfers can enjoy big waves. One such place is Nazare in Portugal, where the waves can reach heights of over 30 metres. Such big waves are a combination of the coast’s location and undersea features – an arrow-shaped canyon more than 4,800 metres below sea level that helps focus the North Atlantic waves as they approach the shallow waters of the shore.
Try to imagine the kind of energy held in a wave that is over 30 metres tall. It is estimated that some of these waves have enough energy to power tens of millions of smartphone batteries. Wave energy farms can surely generate enough power from all that untapped energy.
To put it into perspective, a 30-foot (9.1 metres) high wave with a 65-foot (19.8 metres) long lip, for example, would weigh more than 400 tonnes, the equivalent of 315 small cars. If such a wave were to crash, it would come down at speeds between 70 and 100 kilometres per hour, with the resulting explosion of water capable of pushing surfers 20 feet (6 metres) below the surface. Such force can lead to snapped bones and burst eardrums.
Big Wave Surfer
To tackle a 30-metre high wave requires passion, motivation and interestingly, some humility. Big wave surfing doesn’t have room for egos and many surfers are grounded people. Very importantly, riding big waves requires teamwork, especially when faced with potentially dangerous scenarios. Surfers often have to plan meticulously and lay out achievable goals before they head out. This is essential not just for the fun factor, but also for the safety and survival of all involved.
Every surfer has their limits when it comes to wave size, whether it’s one metre or twenty. The good thing is there are no guidelines for the sport, so individuals get to progress naturally as they get comfortable with their surroundings. Some surfers describe the experience as having a huge canvas that you can draw upon. The only downside to the surfing experience is the wipeouts (when the surfer falls off the board), which happen every so often.
Like every water sport, surfing has the inherent risk of drowning. Beyond knowing how to surf, anyone who tries the sport should have, at the very least, intermediate swimming skills.