From the outside in a wave is just a wave - you’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all.

But from the inside out, it’s very different, in fact there are a number of different types of wave breaks that surfers refer to. 

Similar in many ways, but oh so different at the same time. 

If you’re interested to find out about the different wave break types, what they’re called, and what they look like, keep reading, as all will be explained.

10 DIFFERENT TYPES OF WAVE BREAKS EXPLAINED

There are a lot of different wave types out there, each with their unique character. 

Let's take a closer look at each.


BEACH BREAK

A beach break is what most people learn to surf on, and it’s the type of wave break that’s most popular. 

Beach breaks will break onto a sand bottom, and are found at all beaches around the world. 

Famous beach break examples:

  • Duranbah, Australia
  • Cardiff Beach, California
  • Fistral Beach, UK

SHOREBREAK

A shorebreak is a nuanced version of a beach break. 

Yes, it still breaks on sand, and yes, it holds many of the same characteristics of a beach break too, but the difference is in how it breaks.

A shorebreak (aka shorey), will come out of deep water and break in shallow water close to the shore.

Shorebreak waves will often be more powerful, barrel, and be one heck of a lot of fun. 

Famous shorebreak examples:

  • La Graviere, France
  • Supertubos, Portugal
  • South Straddie, Australia

BOMBIE

A bombie is another type of beach break wave that breaks far out to sea only in very big swells. 

Famous bombie waves:

  • La Nord, France

WEDGE

A wedge is a unique type of wave, very different to all the others on this list.

In simple terms, a wave will travel to shore at a certain angle, it then hits a fixed object - a rock jetty, a cliff, etc. - then rebounds back across the beach. 

This rebounding wave travelling across the beach will merge with another wave travelling towards the shore.

Then something cool happens.

As the two waves meet they jack up into an apex and basically double in size. 

It’s these types of wave breaks that are often novelties, but damn are they fun.

Famous wedge examples: 

  • The Wedge, California

REEF BREAK

Reef breaks are waves that break over shallow rocks. 

The rocks provide a platform for the wave to break in a very consistent way which is why surfers love to ride them.

They’ll oftentimes be hollow and powerful too.

Reef breaks are where surfers tend to get the best, most consistent barrel rides, and they make up the majority of the best waves in the world. 

Famous reef break waves:

  • Cloudbreak, Fiji
  • Lances Right, Mentawaiis
  • Padang Padang, Bali

SLAB

A slab is a type of reef break, but one that’s very unique. 

A slab will be an extremely shallow rock shelf, that backs onto very deep water which makes the swell that hits it be incredibly powerful. 

Unlike most other waves that will gradually go from deep water to shallow, reducing the power of the wave as it goes, slabs just go from swell, to wave in an instant. 

It’s these types of wave breaks that surfers will take off on crazy late drops into enormous, thick tubes. 

The wave itself is usually very short, and very intense. 

Famous slab waves:

  • The Box, Western Australia
  • Teahupoo, Tahiti
  • Shipsterns Bluff, Australia

POINT BREAK

Point breaks are waves that wrap around a land mass, like a headland, that causes the waves to refract and break along its side.

Unlike the other waves on this list the wave itself will travel down the land point creating long, open faced waves. 

And it’s at point break waves that surfers are able to get the longest rides. 

Famous point break waves:

  • Jeffrey’s Bay, South Africa
  • Raglan, New Zealand
  • Rincon, California 

TIDAL WAVES

Tidal waves are (you guessed it) created by the tides. 

They only occur in places with extremely large tidal ranges, and only on the biggest of spring tides, but when do, they’re a sight to behold. 

A tidal surge will travel upstream, creating a wave which will break as it hits the shallow sand banks underneath. 

These tidal waves will throw up some of the longest waves on the planet.

Famous tidal waves:

  • The Severn Bore, UK

RIVER WAVE

River waves are standing, stationary waves that occur in rivers. 

As the water flows downstream it’s interrupted by a shallow underwater shelf that creates a perpetually breaking wave.

If surfers position themselves correctly they are able to ride this stationary river wave indefinitely. 

Famous river waves:

  • Eiswachwelle, Munich
  • Zambezi River Wave, Africa 
  • Waimea River Mouth, Hawaii

WAVE POOL

Wave pools have been around for a long time, but they’ve seriously gained popularity in recent years. 

There are a variety of different wave pool types, each with their own unique flavour and spice, but the fundamentals remain the same - the waves are man made. 

Famous wave pool waves:

  • The Surf Ranch, California
  • Waco, Texas
  • The Surf Dome, Snowdon

CONCLUSION

So many different types of wave breaks, so little time. 

If you’re lucky you’ll have had a chance to try out a few, and if you’re really lucky you may have tried out the lot.

Either way, there’s so many different types of wave breaks to test your skills and explore, each providing a unique look and feel each time. 

That’s what makes surfing so damn alluring right?

Here, here.

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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