How to Read Surf Forecasts Like a Pro

Have you ever wondered how some surfers have learned how to read surf forecasts without any formal education regarding weather conditions? They somehow know when the waves are going to be monstrous and when they are ideal for beginners.

One of the most vital skills that a surfer must possess is the ability to read the weather. Unlike other sports where you just hope for a nice, clear day, surfers are usually waiting for bad weather conditions and embracing the chaos. 

By the end of this article, the goal is to make sure that you will be equipped with the basic knowledge and know-how to predict the next best time to take your surfboard out. But before all that, it’s important to learn about swell, wind, and tide.

Fundamental Elements of Surf Forecasts

Before learning all about reading surf forecasts, it’s important to have an idea of the data surfers use to study the waves. As of 2023, surfers rely on the swell data, wind, and the tide. Having access to this data can guarantee a great surfing experience.


When it comes to wave quality and size, swell data is the number one resource to check out. With the help of a swell chart, surfers can get a graphical representation of the swell height, swell period, and swell direction of a particular surf spot.


Having great swell data doesn’t always equate to a fantastic surf session. Learning about off-shore, on-shore, and cross-shore winds can help you understand if the surf spot has the best qualities to provide rich and remarkable waves.


Learning about tides can also help you understand the type of waves you are likely to encounter in your chosen surf spot. Being able to know the tide schedule can greatly benefit you, especially if you’re looking for a certain type of wave.

Mastering The Waves: How To Read Surf Forecasts

How to Read Surf Forecasts

Now that you have a better understanding of the swell, wind, and tide, it’s time to discuss how to become better at reading surf forecasts. The goal of this section is to help you understand the tools you can use, as well as the experience you’ll get through trial and error.

Scouting the Surf Spot(s)

Unlike other extreme sports out there, surfing usually takes some prep time. Being able to scout your target surf spot is very important, especially if you’re looking for quality waves. Each surf spot has its own characteristics and weather conditions. 

The last thing you want to do is to go out on a whim and expect ideal surfing results.

Use Apps and Websites

Seasoned surfers know that a detailed weather app is more than enough to give them an idea of what to expect. However, thanks to more tech and innovations, there are other data sets that surfers can benefit from. Here are two of the most common apps used by surfers today.

Windguru - this app has everything you need to plan your surf session accordingly. It has wind and wave forecasts, location-specific data such as swell graphs and tables, plus many more. It’s also available for iOS and Android devices.

Windy - While not purely a surf forecast app, Windy has amazing tools to help you with reading swell data. 

Swell Height, Period, and Direction

Apart from learning about the weather conditions, it’s also important to learn how to read the swell height, swell direction, as well as the swell period. Fortunately, most apps have this information readily available.

Reading Swell Height - this is measured by a buoy. It is calculated based on the wave’s distance from the trough to its highest peak.

Reading Swell Period - this is measured by the length of time it takes for the waves to pass in one location over a period of time.

Reading Swell Direction - this is done by checking the directions of the wave as it approaches the surf spot.

Reviewing Swell Charts

Being able to read and review swell charts is one of the most important skills you can get as a surfer. The visual representation of the data provided can help you analyze the swell conditions over time. Having the ability to plan ahead can reward you with a better surfing experience.

Tide Timing

Are you looking for monster waves or mellow ones? This is where learning about tide timing can benefit you. If you’re after powerful waves, then make sure that your surf spot is on high tide. For beginners looking for gentle and playful waves, wait until low tide and make the most of it.

Wind Condition Analytics

Analyzing wind conditions is very crucial for surf beginners as they can make the experience either enjoyable or terrifying. There are three known wind conditions that can affect your surfing. See below for more information.

Offshore Winds - these are wind conditions that go from land to sea. These are the ideal waves for beginners and intermediates as they are more uniform and predictable. 

Onshore Winds - these are wind conditions that go from sea to land. These tend to create wind chops that turn normal waves into disjointed ones, which makes it very tricky for casuals.

Cross-Shore Winds - these are wind conditions where both onshore and offshore winds are happening simultaneously. These are very common in areas that are experiencing horrible weather conditions. 

Advanced-Data Analytics

If you’re looking for serious waves, then it’s very important to dive into advanced data analytics. Fortunately, the most popular surf spots in the world will give you access to their historical data, buoy data, as well as wave models (if applicable). 

See more information below.

Historical data - having the capability to review historical data is valuable for accurately predicting the season so you can plan your surf sessions accordingly.

Buoy data  - popular surfing sites have installed buoys to accurately measure the wave conditions in real-time. This is very important for extreme athletes who are looking for the gnarliest waves.

Wave Models - premium surfcast apps provide access to wave data that can predict the wave conditions via simulation. While not 100% accurate, these wave models can provide more details about the waves you might encounter.


Reading surf forecasts accurately is not something you can master overnight. However, having access to tools makes a difference when reading waves. While it’s true that reading forecasts on your own is a valuable skill, you can still get crucial information from apps.

If the goal is to make informed decisions prior to rolling out for a surf session, then it’s safe to say that mastering everything that has been written in this article will give you a better chance of catching the best waves in your area.

What are you waiting for? Check the forecast, grab your board, and start riding those waves!

James Davis

Written by James Davis

I'm a true California local, and I've spent my life riding the waves along our stunning coastline. Surfing has always been my greatest love, and in my writing, I try to capture its genuine essence. My words aim to transport you into the heart of the surf culture, where the ocean and surfers come together in perfect harmony.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Recommended posts

February 19, 2024
Maine Surf Guide

While there are several wave fields still undiscovered, Maine can still offer some of the best conditions for visiting tourists to catch that perfect wave. In this article, we’ll take a look at why you might want to visit Maine, the best times to surf, and the best places to check out on your next […]

Read More
February 14, 2024
How To Choose the Best Surf Camp in 8 Steps

Surf camps have a certain appeal. They’re ideal places to learn surfing, especially for solo travelers who want to meet people and socialize in a friendly environment. However, surf camps are springing up in every nook and cranny. You’ll find plenty with an ocean at almost every corner of the planet. The increased numbers make […]

Read More
February 12, 2024
Alaska Surf Guide 

If you’re a fan of the outdoors in general and dislike crowds, Alaska might be your go-to place to surf. But with the various hazards and difficulties getting there, it can be a somewhat tedious trip. In this comprehensive guide, you’ll learn all about the wonders and potential dangers of surfing in Alaska.  With its […]

Read More
January 30, 2024
Are Surf Camps Worth It? The Pros and Cons

Surfing is a popular sport, especially with many health fanatics who consider it a great way to keep in shape. If you’re a beginner and want to hone this skill, you might consider joining a surf camp. But, is it worth it? This article will take a deep dive into the essentials of surfing camps […]

Read More
January 30, 2024
Georgia Surf Guide 

If you’re living along the East Coast, it could be a bit difficult to travel across the country to Hawaii or California for that perfect surfing spot. Georgia might not be your first choice when it comes to surfing, but with the warmer waters, beautiful surrounding islands, and stunning wildlife, there are quite a few […]

Read More
January 20, 2024
How Waves Are Formed

Waves, especially ocean waves, are often so common that we never usually think about where they come from or how they’re formed. In this article, you’ll be diving into the specifics of the formation of waves, including the various types of waves and where you may find them.  Depending on the type of wave, there […]

Read More
January 19, 2024
9 Things You Should Know Before Learning How to Surf

Watching surfers riding huge waves certainly inspires us to learn the sport as quickly as possible to impress others, just as we were fascinated. It’s a sport like no other, and the best part is that it gives us a chance to master the ocean, which scares even the best of us. However, remember that […]

Read More
January 15, 2024
7 Weirdest Waves That’ll Blow Your Mind

One of the best things about ocean surfing is that you’ll never know what you’re going to get. It's unpredictable and sometimes too fast or too big for you. Nevertheless, other waves are so wacky and weird that they will level up your excitement in a different way. From massive wipeouts underwater to being thrown […]

Read More
January 7, 2024
12 Best Places for Sandboarding Around the World

With all the sports out there, sandboarding can easily be considered one of the most unique and exciting ones there is to offer. It might be thought that this sport is relatively new, but in reality, it has been around for centuries and is thought to have been started by the Egyptians. Today, it has […]

Read More
1 2 3 14
Find your ideal surfing destination with Surf Spots. Connect with the waves and brace yourself for an experience of a lifetime.



Contact Us


All rights reserved by Surf Spots