Reading Charts

Lesson 4 Chapter 1

Part of learning to surf is understanding how to predict the right weather conditions for surfing. You don’t want to waste your time packing up and heading to your local surf spot only to be disappointed!

Reading surf charts can feel overwhelming to begin with, however, with a little help, you will soon find yourself whizzing through the weather chart and confidently be able to choose where to surf.

Let's take a look at this basic overview for a beginner surfer:

Wave Period

Wave period is measured in seconds and references the time interval between each wave. The longer the interval the more power the swell will have and the more groomed the waves will be.

The wave period is dictated by how long a storm has been blowing for, and the distance the swell has to travel before it reaches the shore.

Typically, a wave period of anything over 10 seconds is good news for surfers.

Swell Height

It goes without saying that the bigger the swell height, the bigger the waves will be.

Swell Direction

Different surf spots will face different directions. The direction that it faces will impact the wave quality and size depending on the direction of the swell.


Tides play a massive factor in how waves break. Each spot has it’s best tides to surf. Typically the ocean rises and falls every 6.5 - 7 hours.

Tides are described as:

  • Low tide
  • Mid tide
  • High tide

You will learn to read how the tides affect the conditions. Many spots will be at their best during a small window of the tide eg. 2 hours after high tide or 1 hr each side of low tide.

As you get to know each spot you’ll be able to dial yourself into the wave/tide patterns.


  • Onshore
  • Offshore
  • Cross-shore
  • Cross on
  • Cross off

It can get a bit confusing.

Generally what surfers are looking for is offshore winds. What that means is that the wind is blowing from the shore out to sea.

Offshore winds will groom the waves and make them nice and uniform. Also known as “clean”.

Offshore conditions are what you will be hunting.



Each spot has its own cocktail of conditions that will make it shine. Knowing the fundamentals of what turns your local on will be essential to scoring the best waves.