Beach break, reef, or point, waves come in several types with their own pros and cons. But how is a beginner supposed to know what the differences involve in terms of the degree of difficulty or risk?
The type of break is primarily set by the shape and material of the bottom of the ocean as the wave reaches the shore. For a surfer, this makes a big difference to the dynamics of the ride, even at two different locations that have the same wave size.
Read on to discover the differences, and where to find the very best beach breaks, reefs, and point break waves.
Beach Breaks: The Best Wave To Start Surfing On
The term "beach break" refers to a surfing spot where waves break over sand along the length of a beach. Although not always as reliable as reef or point breaks in terms of quality, having a surfable wave breaking over a sandy seabed is much safer for beginner surfers than learning to surf over rocks or a coral reef. This is important because beginners tend to practice in shallow water close to the shore, so they frequently make contact with the bottom.
The ideal beach break for beginners is any wave that break some way out, with a long "whitewater" ride towards the shoreline. This allows learners have plenty of time to stand and feel out their balance. Those new to surfing should be cautious of shore breaks.
Famous Beach Breaks:
Huntington Beach, California
Home of the famous Huntington pier, and host to the annual US Open of Surfing, Huntington Beach is a budding surfer's dream beach destination, only rivaled by Santa Monica (less than 40 miles away).
With miles of sand and dozens of beach break peaks, it's perfect for beginner and intermediate surfers to practice riding waves and soak up some surf culture at the same time.
Once you've ridden all the waves you can handle for one day, check out the other things to do in Huntington Beach here.
Waikiki Beach, Hawaii
Any rundown of surfing beaches would not be complete without this Hawaiian gem.
The stunning coastline and mountain backdrop to the city make the place as beautiful as it is suited to surfing.
The jetty helps to shelter the bay from storm swells and currents, keeping the waves mellow for beginners and longboarders.
Bondi Beach, Australia
Sydney's most famous beach, Bondi is known for being one of Australia's most visited surfing breaks.
Thousands flock there to surf, soak up some sun, and enjoy this iconic location.
If you visit, be careful around the South end of the beach as there are potentially dangerous rip currents.
Beginner surfers should stick to the North.
Point Breaks & Reef Breaks: 2 Other Types Of Surfable Waves
Point breaks refer to surf spots where the waves wrap around a headland and then break at an angle to the shoreline, creating long rides in one particular direction. The bottom at a point break can be sand, rock, or coral. Although point breaks are relatively easy to surf because of their predictable shape and speed, strong currents can make paddling into position difficult.
Reef breaks are where a shelf of rock or coral reef rises out of deep water. Where the change in depth is quite sudden, this causes the breaking waves to be steep, fast, and hollow. Although some reef breaks are more mellow (those with a smoother depth transition), they are still best reserved for more advanced surfers due to the bottom surface and potentially dangerous currents.
Famous Point Breaks:
Snapper Rocks, Australia
Snapper Rocks, at the southern end of the Gold Coast in Queensland, sees long right-hand waves breaking from the rocks of the headland at the southern end.
It's a world-class wave and home to several major surf contests, including regular visits from the WSL Championship Tour, but does get very busy in season.
Jeffrey's Bay, South Africa
Another right-hand point break, Jeffrey's Bay is one of the most famous surf spots in the world.
Even visitors who don't surf love to watch the Supertubes action from the eateries and cafes by the shore.
The town has become totally surf-oriented in the years since the break was discovered and you can really feel the buzz when big surf swells roll through.
Famous Reef Breaks:
Banzai Pipeline, Hawaii
Pipeline Left, or just Pipe, is the most famous barreling wave in Hawaii, along with Backdoor (on the other side of the same peak.
Created when big swells roll up over a reef with almost perfect dynamics, the ride is difficult, dangerous, and considered a right of passage amongst Hawaiian surfers and those from around the globe.
Teahupo'o in Tahiti (French Polynesia) is not for the faint-hearted.
A deep offshore trench and shelving reef combine to create a wave with one of the steepest take-offs and thickest, fastest left-hand barrels in the world.
When the wave gets big, even the best surfers in the world treat this reef break with extreme caution.
Teahupo'o is well known as one of the biggest waves in the world.