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Understanding Southern California Wave Direction

How does the wind influence our waves?

Here are some basic facts about the wind and waves:

  1. Harder the wind blows;
  2. Over a longer period of time;
  3. Over a greeters distance on ocean (fetch);
  4. The more wind energy will be transferred into the ocean, resulting in larger waves and longer swell periods. 


Wind + Wind Strength + Wind Distance = Longer Swell Periods

Swell period is related to how deep the swell energy extends below the surface of the ocean. The longer the swell period the deeper the swell energy, the more the waves will be influenced by underwater bathymetry (the shape of the bottom of the break) and shallow offshore banks.

Hurricane swell direction begins out of the Southeast as the storms move from underneath Baja, Mexico (from warm water), the swell shifts more South and Southwest as is moves further West.

Hurricanes need warm water (about 80 degrees) to fuel the storm (and thrive)—this is why El Nino years are good for swell, these years have warmer water and thus spin off more hurricanes with longer vector (closer proximity to California).

Read the complete article on surfline. explaining the surf mechanics of Malibu and other great information about wave mechanics and historical photos.