When most people go to the beach, they see waves rolling onto the shore, and the idea of how these waves actually got to that point never even crosses their mind. For most people, they could care less how those waves actually formed; they just care that they’re there and they can have fun in the ocean. Being a surf instructor who relies on waves everyday to bring in business, I focus much more than the average person on how these waves actually come to be. Now imagine at the next Summer Olympics in Japan, where a director has to pray that there are ridable waves during the olympic timeframe, how much they care about how waves are formed. If you don’t believe me that surfing will be in the next olympics, here is some proof. Now I know that most of you don’t care about surfing and definitely don’t care that it will be an event at our next summer olympics, but I’m going to explain how this could go terribly wrong in 2020.
The basis of all waves start with wind. Whether it be deep sea winds or shoreline winds, wind is the key factor in moving water to produce waves. While water moves throughout the ocean, wind acts against it, pushing the water upwards forming “swells.” Swells are waves that move hundreds of miles across the ocean at a heightened elevation. As wind keeps blowing constantly over these waters, the swells will continue to grow as they travel towards shore. Low pressure systems, which are explained in this article, are known for created the best and biggest waves because they produce the strongest wind. Another way that these swells can grow along the way is by the shape of the ocean floor. If a moving body of water passes over a large bump in the ocean floor, it’s height is going to naturally increase.
These swells are not, however, what surfers ultimately surf; at least not until they reach the shoreline. When these swells finally reach shorelines, the shallow water slows them down, decreasing the wave lengths. As the wave lengths decrease, the swells get steeper, turning into cresting waves that are ridable for surfers. Depending on the shape of the sand bar, reef, or rocks at the shoreline, the wave will have a different shape.
With all of these factors coming into play to make a wave, you begin to realize how much of a miracle it is that waves actually make it to shore. So now, if you are a director of olympic surfing, wouldn’t you be a little nervous that there may not be waves big enough to surf during the two week olympic timeframe? It is very possible that this is what we will see at the 2020 Summer Olympics…
Now, while many of you may still not care about the amazing “wave production” process, it’s important to understand that many people actually rely on these waves to make a living. Here is an example of a professional surf event that was cancelled due to lack of waves. This meant that professional surfers, who get paid to surf in contests, were unable to surf and receive their paychecks. While this isn’t the end of the world, especially since the contest was rescheduled, it is definitely something to think about.
Many people might say, “Why don’t professional surfers just compete in surfing wave pools?,” which is a very valid argument. However, I, along with most surfers, would tell you that a machine produced wave ruins the sport. It takes the nature and fun out of surfing as every single wave is exactly the same. However, I will admit it’s pretty cool
I hope I’ve made you appreciate the production of waves a little more with this post. If not, at least next time you’re at the beach you’ll know exactly how those waves got there, or how they didn’t get there…
So who thinks there won’t be any rideable waves in Japan 2020?