Popular Science



The seminal surf documentar­y The Endless Summer puts the odds of spotting a perfect wave at 10 million to one. While each athlete’s ideal varies according to skill and preference­s, most seek a tall, smooth break that maximizes riding time. Here’s what they look for. —MG

1/Timing: The interval between waves is a tip to their size. Gaps of 12 seconds or longer indicate large swells and epic rides. Briefer windows mean relatively smaller thrills.

2/Shape: Incoming surf resembles a hump. The steeper the angle to its peak, the faster it breaks, with more potential for speed and power. A gentle slope does so more slowly.

3/Break: Water that peels, or breaks, progressiv­ely from left to right or vice versa maximizes a surfer’s time on the wave’s face. They love “tubes,” which curl completely over them.

4/Height: An ideal wave is big enough to provide power but not so large its face collapses, making it unrideable. Rookies like them under 5 feet; pros will ride anything up to 20.

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