Different Types of Surf Breaks | A Comprehensive Guide (2023)

Surfing allows you to be in a deep relationship with the ocean and the land that meets up with the sea. This relationship makes you understand that no two waves are alike and how the same goes for how every wave is produced.

Different Types of Surf Breaks | A Comprehensive Guide (1)

Looking from a distance, it might seem like the waves all behave and are formed the same. But, looking a little closer and going in and under the surface, you will understand how waves come to be a few different ways.

Surf breaks are permanent obstruction that causes waves to break. This obstruction forms barreling waves or other waves that can be surfed before it sooner or later collapses. This article introduces you to the different types of surf breaks and what makes each one unique.

Table of Contents

Types of Surf Breaks Explained

There are about a dozen different types of surf breaks. Some are permanent, and some are semi-permanent. But, in surfing, three main types produce the style of wave that riders can surf on. These three surf breaks are what we’ll break down in this guide.

The Beach Break

A beach break comes to pass where waves break on a usually sandy bed. One of the perfect examples of a beach break is the classic Hossegor Beach in southern France. This spot is famous for waves of up to 20ft.

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This surf spot where waves break over sand is the most common lineup for surfers. It delivers mellow waves for beginners to learn to surf while offering powerful waves and pounding shore breaks for advanced riders.

A beach break’s peak continuously moves from one week to another as the sandbars shift around the ocean floor. This movement happens from one side to another, causing an effect on the currents, swells, and tides.

This shifting causes the constant change of waves. One day you could be surfing perfect peeling lefts, and the next day be surfing close-out waves in the exact same spot. Today, the surf break could be in one place, and in two days, it could be a hundred yards down the shoreline.

Paddling out on a beach break is usually more challenging as there isn’t always a clearly defined channel through which waves are not breaking. This is the same when trying to figure out where to sit in the lineup.

On the other hand, this type of surf break is safer than others because the sand bottom sits relatively a minor threat, and rip currents are less predictable and often more substantial. These are often considered softer options than their rock-bottomed counterparts.

It can be rare to find a beach break that offers very long rides. This is why they are often characterized as average waves and closeouts when in reality, they can be excellent for both beginners and advanced riders.

10 Best Beach Breaks

  • Black’s Beach (San Diego, CA)
  • Hossegor (Hossegor, France)
  • Puerto Escondido (Mexico)
  • Ocean Beach (San Francisco, CA)
  • Martha Lavinia (Australia)
  • Fernando de Noronha (Brazil)
  • Outer Banks (North Carolina)
  • Bay of Plenty (New Zealand)
  • Supertubos (Peniche, Portugal)
  • Duranbah (Tweed Heads, Australia)

The Point Break

The place where waves hit a point of land or rocks jutting out from the coastline is the point break. This type of surf break was named after the Swayze/Reeves film entitled “Point Break.” One of the most famous examples of point breaks is Bells Beach in Australia.

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What makes it a point break? A point break is a phenomenon. It is when lines of swell hit a stretch of land at a sloping or even oblique angle. This breaks along and around the ground instead of directly towards it. This makes them more likely to form alongside a headland, then break over sand or rock.


The good thing about it is that its resultant waves generally peel for far longer than the other types of surf breaks like a beach break. The long and racy rides it offers are best for advanced riders but aren’t advisable for first-timers and beginners.

Paddling out at a point break is pretty easy as you can always move around the breaking wave. Also, point breaks usually have only one take-off point and travel in one direction. This means that you may have to get in line and wait your turn to catch a wave.

Quality over quantity is what point breaks are all about since the length of the waves makes it worth all the paddling. So much that intermediate and advanced surfers prefer point breaks as they can be great places for riders to perfect tricks and improve style.

This type of surf break is also a test of a surfer’s ability to “read” a wave’s pace, including how to link numerous turns together with the proper flow and precision. Pro surfers Fanning and Parkinson reared on the long right-handers of Australia’s Gold Coast, making them point break virtuosos.

There aren’t a lot of high-quality point breaks in the UK and Ireland regions. But, there are certainly a few ones worth traveling to outside of their territories.

10 Best Point Breaks

  • Jeffrey’s Bay (South Africa)
  • Kandooma (Maldives)
  • Burleigh Heads & The Superbank (Gold Coast, Australia)
  • Scorpion Bay (Baja California, Mexico)
  • Oaxaca (Mexico)
  • Chicama (Peru)
  • Rincon and Malibu (California)
  • Mundaka (Spain)
  • Lafitenia (St. Jean de Luz, France)
  • Ribeira d’Ilhas (Ericeira, Portugal)

The Reef Break

The Cloudbreak in Fiji and Jaws in Maui are the perfect examples of reef breaks. As the name suggests, this type of surf break happens when a wave breaks over a coral reef or a rocky seabed. It may occur close to the shore or well offshore from the shoreline.

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The reef break is often seen as the most demanding break since they are incredibly shallow and may cause unpredictable consequences. Moreover, they are common in tropical surf destinations and often deliver reef passes or deep channels for safe paddling out.

This type of surf break usually pumps perfect barreling waves that break in the same spot. Unlike beach break, reef break is not in the cards of changing a lot. This results in the type of wave that is almost always the same way every time. Swell direction and tide are generally the main factors that change how waves break over a reef.

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Reef breaks create the best hollow barrels. However, these barrels can also be the most dangerous ones to ride. Think about the Pipeline, Teahupoo, and Cloudbreak – they are the most spectacular reef breaks but the riskiest ones to ride.

This is why most prestigious surfing competitions are done in this type of surf break – because of the skill required to navigate them. Another reason pro surfers love riding reef breaks is the chance to watch the corals while sitting and waiting for waves.

Surfing a reef break, as hinted above, requires a higher skill level in surfing – intermediate to advanced. You should at least be able to take off safely and maneuver along with the wave in one piece. Wave reading is an advantage too. This signals you when to kick-off and how to react to dangerous zones.

Lastly, consider wearing booties when riding this type of surf break. Coral reefs can be very sharp. Some of them may even contain a highly toxic substance.

10 Best Reef Breaks

  • Teahupoo (Tahiti)
  • Cloudbreak (Fiji)
  • Lance’s Right (Mentawais)
  • Pipeline (Hawaii)
  • Sultans (Maldives)
  • The Bubble (Fuerteventura, Canary Islands)
  • Caleta de Famara (Lanzarote, Spain)
  • Coxos (Ericeira, Portugal)
  • Carriagem (Algarve, Portugal)
  • Plage de Marbella (Biarritz, France)

Extra Additions to The List

Different sea bottoms and local topography create other waves far from the main types of surf breaks. While they offer an ample amount of swell for riders to surf on, they aren’t trendy for professional riding.

Shipwreck Break

This type of surf break usually forms from sand and builds up over submerged or partly submerged shipwrecks. They can be temporary or more or less permanent, depending on how long the wreck has remained in place.

Shipwreck breaks are beautiful spots and can hold some decent sizes of waves. The best time to surf here is during high tide.

Shore Break

This break is a wave that breaks directly on or very near the shore. It happens when the beach is very steep and at the shoreline. They closely resemble beach or reef break; only they break very close to the shore.

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Rivermouth Break

A rivermouth break happens at or near the entrance of a river or a creek. It can break as either a left or a right wave, sometimes even a peak which can break both ways. Usually, its bottom is sandy. But, it can also be pebbles, rocks, or even coral reefs.

Jetty Break

Also called “groynes” in some places, jetty break waves are often exhibiting constructive interference between different incoming waves to create a significantly larger wedging wave style.

What Are Lefts, Rights, and Peaks?

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Now that we’ve touched on the type of surf breaks, a little more profound understanding of the waves needs us to know what left, right, and peaks are.

A wave is either a left or a right. It generally depends on which direction the wave breaks from the surfer’s point of view, paddling and riding the wave. If a surfer is paddling to snag the wave and breaking from right to left, he is supposed to have to turn left to get on the swell because it is a left.

From the onlooker’s perspective, the wave will be seen breaking to the right. But, it is the surfer’s point of view that counts. So, a right is evidently, the opposite of a left.

The wave that breaks, forming a rideable wave both left and right, is a peak. In a peak, two surfers can surf it at the same time in different directions.


Many riders assume that waves are the same everywhere you go. They don’t. Waves, just like surfing, isn’t as simple as it looks. There is more to it than waves coming out of the water. The style and characteristics of every wave depend on the type of surf break that produces it.

FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions)

Q: Why do waves break?

A: When water flows in, its upper layers travel faster than its lower layers. Imagine waves arriving at the beach. As they travel from the open ocean, they move up a gradual sandy incline and start to slow down. Its bottom slows more quickly than the top. So, rather than moving forward as one, we get a whole series of water layers sliding past one another.

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Related Resources

  • Should I Surf at High or Low Tide?
  • Surf Slang and Terms
  • Best Surf Towns in the World
  • How Does a Surfing Lineup Work?
  • Best Surf Forecasting Websites


What are the different types of surf breaks? ›

The three different types of breaks are beach breaks, reef breaks, and point breaks.

Which type of breaking waves are the best to surf on? ›

Plunging waves. These are the best type of waves for surfing, and occur where a swell moves out of deep water into very shallow water, such as on a reef.

What is a beach break vs reef break vs point break? ›

Point breaks occur when wave swell strikes a point of land, whether it's a section of jutting rock or headland. Reef breaks occur when wave energy breaks over areas of coral or rocky reef. Beach breaks, conversely, occur when rolling waves interact with the shallow sand banks of a given beach.

What is a surf break called? ›

There are mainly four types of surfing waves breaking in three essential environments - beach breaks, point breaks, and reef breaks. However, you may also introduce two extra additions to the list - river breaks and artificial breaks.

What are the four types of breaking? ›

Friction with the bottom causes the trough of the wave to disappear, the crest to slow its movement, and when the depth causes the wave height to become 1.3 times the water depth, the crest falls, forming a breaker. There are four basic types of breaking waves: spilling, plunging, collapsing, and surging.

What are the 3 types of breaking waves? ›

There are three main types of breakers: spilling, plunging, and surging. These are related to the steepness of the bottom, and how quickly the wave will slow down and its energy will get dissipated.

What are the 4 types of waves? ›

We know that wave is associated with the transfer of energy. There are many types of waves studied in Physics. Some waves need a material medium to propagate, and some do not need a medium for propagation.
Electromagnetic Wave
  • Microwaves.
  • X-ray.
  • Radio waves.
  • Ultraviolet waves.

What are 3 types of waves surfers look for? ›

Rolling waves (1) are the most familiar waves, and the type most surfers prefer because they break in a stable pattern. Dumping waves (2) are more unpredictable and are usually limited to experienced surfers. Surging waves (3) are the most dangerous and are most often present on steep or rocky shores.

What type of wave is best for beginners? ›

Bigger than that can make some people nervous and can break quite hard. A two-foot white water wave gently rolling toward the beach is the ideal surf conditions for beginners and will quickly allow a beginner surfer to get up and riding. Finding the right wave size for beginners can be a bit of a challenge, however.

Are beach breaks better at high or low tide? ›

On flat beaches (beaches without a steep sand shelf at the high tide mark) you'll generally get the best waves at high tide. This is because the water fills in over the sand banks, oftentimes leading to soft peeling - beginner friendly - waves. On steep beaches however, you'll want to surf between mid and low tides.

What is a point break surfing? ›

A point break is a surf break where the shoreline extends out to sea creating a headland. The wave hits the headland or jetty and starts breaking. Best case: It's peeling along the shoreline creating a long ride with different sections to play with.

What is a strong shore break? ›

Shorebreak occurs when waves break directly on shore. Shore break may occur with waves that are not large enough to be considered “high surf”. Shorebreak can be very powerful when crashing down on swimmers in the surf zone and can result in significant physical injury or drowning.

What does a surfer Call the lip of a breaking? ›

Crumble / Crumbly Waves

The lip of the waves will "crumble" along the line and as a result spoil the waves for surfers.

What is a beginner surfer called? ›

Grom – a young and inexperienced surfer; also known as a grommet or gremmie.

What is a surf break called in Hawaii? ›

“Jaws” is certainly the most well known, and also the most geographically specific name for the surf break. The name “Pe'ahi” has become more popular with surfers trying to draw connection with local culture as of late – so it is now common to hear that name used as well.

What are the different breaks? ›

Partial Fracture: An incomplete break of the bone. Complete Fracture: A complete break of the bone causing it to be separated into two or more pieces. Stable Fracture: The broken ends of the bone line up and have not moved out of place. Displaced Fracture: There is a gap between the broken ends of the bone.

What are the best type of breaks? ›

CERAMIC. Ceramic brake pads have excellent stopping power and disperse heat well. Ideal for most normal driving applications, they produce very little dust or noise and are long lasting. Many foreign and domestic vehicles are equipped with ceramic brake pad formulations from the factory.

What are the 2 main types of waves? ›

There are two basic types of wave motion for mechanical waves: longitudinal waves and transverse waves. The animations below demonstrate both types of wave and illustrate the difference between the motion of the wave and the motion of the particles in the medium through which the wave is travelling.

What are the 3 mediums of waves? ›

Gases (such as air), liquids (such as water), and solids (such as ropes) all act as mediums. Waves that require a medium through which to travel are called mechanical waves.

How many types of waves are there? ›

Types and features of waves

Waves come in two kinds, longitudinal and transverse.

What are the seven 7 types of waves? ›

Radio waves, microwaves, infrared radiation, visible light, ultraviolet radiation, X-rays, and gamma rays are the 7 types of electromagnetic waves.

What are the 7 characteristics of waves? ›

They include amplitude, frequency, period, wavelength, speed, and phase. Each of these properties is described in more detail below.

What are the 4 characteristics of waves? ›

No matter whether you are talking about vibrations or waves, all of them can be characterized by the following four characteristics: amplitude, wavelength, frequency, and speed.

What is the hardest wave to surf? ›

Teahupo'o. Tahiti, French Polynesia Teahupo'o is widely considered the heaviest wave on the planet. Between the shallow reef and the pounding surf, the notorious break has claimed five lives since 2000.

What is the most damaging wave? ›

Surface waves are considered to be the most damaging waves. These waves move along the surface. The velocity of waves changes as they travel through materials with different densities. The denser the material, the higher is the velocity.

What is the safest wave? ›

Spilling or rolling waves are found where there are generally flat shorelines. These are generally safer types of waves. They occur when the crest breaks onto the wave face itself. Surging waves may never actually break as they approach the water's edge since the water is very deep.

What should you not do while surfing? ›

Mind Your Manners: 10 Do's and Don'ts of Surfing
  1. Don't paddle out directly behind another surfer. ...
  2. Don't let go of your board when a big wave bears down on you. ...
  3. Don't paddle over the shoulder of a wave when another surfer is about to ride. ...
  4. Don't paddle through the lineup. ...
  5. Don't jockey for position in the lineup.
Dec 25, 2011

What time of day is best to surf? ›

The morning and evening are often the best times to surf because the land is cool and the offshore wind is blowing. As the day heats up, the hot air from the land rises and the cooler air from the sea comes in underneath it, creating an onshore wind or “sea breeze”.

Does high tide mean bigger waves? ›

Tide and Surfing

If the tide is too high and rising, each successive wave will push higher, while if the tide is high and falling, the energy in the waves will decrease with each wave. As the tide approaches low tide, the waves will be less powerful and flat.

At what point is the tide the strongest? ›

The strongest flood and ebb currents usually occur before or near the time of the high and low tides. The weakest currents occur between the flood and ebb currents and are called "slack water" or "slack current".

What are the 8 in Point Break? ›

In the new remake of the movie Point Break “the Ozaki 8” is a challenge posed to the adventure sports world for honor and the pursuit of adventure. The Ozaki eight extreme sports “ordeals” are intended to honor the elements and forces of nature while testing the abilities of “poly-athletes”.

What is a left break in surfing? ›

A left break is a wave that breaks to a surfer's left. From the shore, this wave will look like it's breaking from left to right. A surfer paddling to catch a left break must turn left to ride the wave.

What do surfers say when the waves are good? ›

37. Off the hook. This term is used by surfers when the waves are performing extraordinarily well.

What waves should you avoid? ›

Surging waves

When a wave breaks it loses some of its power and momentum. Watch out for surging waves - they don't break, so they can knock you off of your feet more easily and drag you into deeper water.

What is it called when a surfer is inside the wave? ›

#16 — Barrel

Surfing inside a barreling wave is something most surfers want to achieve during their career. This is what we in surfing lingo is calling getting barreled, getting pitted or getting tubed.

How do you not get hurt in Shorebreak? ›

Get in and get out quickly, do not lose your footing, and definitely do not drop your kite in the shore break. Also, watch out for logs and debris in the shore-break, even rocks can get thrown around and hit you. Your board too can become a projectile if it gets caught in the shore-break.

What are the 5 major types of surfboards? ›

Surfboards usually fall into five basic categories: shortboards, fish boards, funboards, longboards, and guns.

What are the broken waves? ›

Wave breaking generally occurs where the amplitude reaches the point that the crest of the wave actually overturns—the types of breaking water surface waves are discussed in more detail below.

What is a 7ft surfboard called? ›

A funboard is a surfboard that's 6 to 8 feet long and has a rounder/wider outline than shortboards (in-between a longboard and a fish).


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