The direction the wind blows affects the way waves break in a big way.

And with surfers always chasing the best waves possible, they place a keen eye on the wind directions. 

Onshore, offshore, cross shore…

Each wind direction affects the surf in very different ways. 

In this post you’ll learn:

  • What the difference is between onshore, offshore, and cross shore winds.
  • How these winds affect the waves.
  • Which type of winds creates the best surf.
  • Why the wind is generally offshore in the mornings.
  • The best apps for accurate surf and wind forecasting.

And much more.

Let’s get things started shall we?

 

ONSHORE VS OFFSHORE WINDS: WHAT’S THE DIFFERENCE?

Onshore winds blow from the ocean towards the land, and offshore winds do the opposite, blowing from the land towards the ocean. 

This subtle difference in the wind direction can have a dramatic effect on the quality of the waves, and severely impact the way a wave breaks.

Let's take a closer look...

As onshore winds blow to shore, they create their own little waves known as wind chop. 

This wind-chop interferes with the underlying ground swell moving to shore creating a disjointed wave, with small choppy waves disrupting the swells natural canvas.

Offshore winds affect the waves differently.

Because they don’t have a large fetch (wind fetch is the uninterrupted distance over which wind blows across a body of water), they don’t create any chop in the water, instead they have a grooming effect. 

Ironing out any chops and wrinkles in the waves face, making for a clean, uniform wave face.


SURF LINGO FOR ONSHORE AND OFFSHORE WAVES

Surfers have different names for describing the waves when the winds are onshore vs offshore, so let’s get you up to date on the surfing lingo:

ONSHORE WAVE NAMES

  • Choppy
  • Messy
  • Bumpy
  • Rough
  • Blown out
  • Slop
  • Junkie
  • All over the place

OFFSHORE WAVE NAMES

  • Clean
  • Glassy
  • Groomed

ARE ONSHORE OR OFFSHORE WINDS BETTER FOR SURFING

Offshore winds are better for surfing because:

  • They’re predictable.
  • They are easier to read.
  • Offshore winds blow up the waves face allowing it to barrel.
  • Doesn’t impact the curve of the wave.
  • Allows surfers to slice through the water with their surfboards more easily.
  • They're more uniform.
  • They're way easier to surf.

Just to name a few.

In short, surfers prefer surfing offshore waves because it’s easier, and it opens up the possibility of getting tubed - not to mention the fact that sitting in the ocean in an offshore wind is a much nicer experience. 


SHOULD I SURF IF THE WIND IS ONSHORE

Absolutely!

Just because offshore winds are better for so many reasons, that doesn’t mean that onshore winds are bad, and it definitely doesn’t mean you should avoid them, quite the opposite in fact. 

Surfing onshore waves can be fun as hell, and oftentimes way more fun.

But it’s harder, much harder to perfect. 

Get good at surfing onshore waves though and when the wind swings offshore, you’ll be tearing it up I promise.


BUT DON’T FORGET CROSS SHORE WINDS

Ok nearly forgot, I guess we should mention cross shore winds too whilst we’re at it. 

Cross shore winds as you’d expect blow across the beach, either left or right. 

Just to confuse you a little bit, you can get multiple different cross shore winds, they are:

  • Cross shore: Wind blowing directly across a beach.
  • Cross Onshore (aka cross-on): Wind blowing across a beach with a hint of onshore wind.
  • Cross Offshore (aka cross-off): Wind blowing across a beach with a hint of offshore wind.

These slight variances impact the way the waves break quite a bit.

Let me explain. 

A cross offshore wind will be slightly offshore for waves breaking in one direction, whilst simultaneously being onshore on the other, whereas a straight cross shore, or cross-on wind will be onshore both ways.

A slight difference, but effects the surf in a big way.

*Note: Pro surfers will quite like surfing into cross offshore winds (ie. they surf into the direction that’s slightly offshore) because they create the perfect conditions for doing big airs. As they launch into the air the cross shore wind will blow into their board, sticking it to their feet, and adding extra lift like a kite. The biggest airs performed are often done in these types of conditions. For those that want to know, it’s called an air wind.


WHY IS THE WIND OFFSHORE IN THE MORNINGS

Have you ever noticed that the wind is generally offshore in the mornings?

Why is that?

Here’s how it works.

During the daytime when the sun is at its hottest, the land heats up which creates a thermal updraft.

This updraft draws air in from the air sitting over the cooler ocean surface (the ocean temperature doesn’t fluctuate as much as land) creating an onshore wind. 

We can flip and reverse this though for the mornings.

Overnight the land cools, and the thermal updraft switches to the ocean, now drawing air from the land towards it. 

This phenomena is call a thermal or land-sea breeze, and this is what creates offshore winds in the morning.

*Note: The hotter the climate, the more predictable this land-sea breeze will be.


WIND TRACKING APPS

Surfers no longer rely on the weather forecast on TV's to get accurate wind forecasts, instead they now rely on surfing apps that will give them all of that information on an hour by hour basis. 

Here are a few to check out:

Windy App

Windy.com

Wind Guru

For what it's worth, I usually use a mix of the two windy apps to get the most accurate data. 


CONCLUSION

I don’t like seeing it as an offshore vs onshore thing, neither is better in my opinion, and neither is any excuse not to get in the water. 

If you want to improve, you’ve got to get in no matter what.

Onshore, offshore, cross shore, the lot. 

Just get yourself in there, don’t be fussy, you know you’ll feel way better regardless.

Yew!

Rowan 🤙

ROWAN CLIFFORD

Rowan is the technical nerd behind the scenes. A lover of everything entrepreneurial, and living a minimal, simple life.

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