How Offshore vs. Onshore Winds Affect the Surf
The direction that the wind is blowing can have a huge impact on waves, and the quality of how they break. Generally, the two most common phrases you’ll hear surfers tossing around are “offshore vs. onshore winds”, and the occasional “sideshore”.
In this post, we’re going to take a look at the difference between offshore and onshore winds, how they affect the quality of the surf, and the best winds for surfing.
What are offshore winds?
Offshore winds are winds that blow from the land towards the sea. They are created when the sea is warmer than the land, which typically happens in the early morning, winter, and late afternoon/earlt evening. Offshore winds can have a significant impact on wave quality, which makes them relevant to surfers.
Hint: Offshore waves are usually a great thing!
When offshore winds blow, they hold up the face of the wave, which typically creates a cleaner and more organized wave face. This makes the waves much nicer to ride, and at some beaches, even creates more opportunities for getting barreled.
Because the wind is blowing towards the waves as they break, the waves are delayed from breaking. This delay forces the waves to break in shallower water than they normally would, resulting in a steeper, faster wave.
Can there be too much offshore wind for surfing?
Even though we typically love offshore winds, there can in fact be too much of it at times!
Heavy amounts of offshore winds can quickly create more challenging surf conditions. When the offshore winds reach the 20+mph range, sometimes the surf gets messy, or the waves get so delayed in breaking that they end up closing out. Additionally, when the wind is howling offshore it can be really tough to catch waves, as you often end up getting blown out of the wave as you try to paddle into it!
What are onshore winds?
Onshore winds are winds that blow from the sea towards the land, which is the same direction as the waves. They are created when wind flows from a high pressure system to a low pressure system.
Onshore winds can have a significant impact on wave quality, which makes them important for surfers to understand.
When onshore winds blow, they create choppy and disorganized wave faces, which can make it more difficult for surfers to catch and ride waves, as you’ll have less of a wave face to worth with. The wind pushes against the waves, which can make them crumble and break inconsistently. This also makes the waves softer, and more difficult to practice turns, and maintain speed on the wave. Overall, onshore winds are no good for intermediate- experienced surfers.
However, mild onshore winds can also create more forgiving surfing conditions for beginners or less experienced surfers. The surf conditions created by onshore winds can create smaller, more manageable waves that are easier to catch and ride, along with mellow white water waves on the inside for beginners to practice riding.
In summary, onshore winds are winds that blow from the sea towards the land and can have a significant negative impact on wave quality. While they can create more challenging and messy surfing conditions for experienced surfers, they can also provide more forgiving conditions for beginners.
Crossshore winds are winds that blow parallel to the shore, either from the left or the right side of the beach. These winds can have a varying effect on wave quality, depending on their strength and direction.
Mild crossshore winds don’t have too much of an effect on surf, but strong, crossshore/onshore winds can ruin a break pretty quickly.
Are onshore waves or offshore waves better for surfing?
Offshore winds are generally better than onshore winds for surfing because they create clean and organized waves that are easier to ride. Onshore winds blow from the sea towards the land, which causes the wave face to crumble and break early, resulting in choppy and disorganized waves that are not good for surfing.
On the other hand, offshore winds blow from the land towards the sea, which forces the wave face to stand up a little longer and creates a smoother, cleaner, and steeper wave face that is ideal for surfing.
More experienced surfers tend to really love offshore winds, because they create steeper and faster waves that are better for carving and practicing turns on. Offshore winds can even create opportunities for getting barreled.
For beginners, a light onshore wind might be better than heavy offshore winds, although heavy onshore winds are simply bad for everyone! Except maybe the kitesurfers.
What time of day has the best wind for surfing?
The time of day with the most ideal wind conditions for surfing depends on where you are in the world, and the local weather patterns in your area. In general, however, early morning and late afternoon/early evening tend to be the best times for surfing, as these are the times when the wind is typically calmest and most consistent, and offshore.
Early morning is often the preferred time for surfing as it tends to have the lightest winds and cleanest waves. Late afternoon to early evening can also be a good time for surfing, as the sun begins to set and the air temperature cools, creating similar offshore wind conditions.
However, it’s important to note that wind conditions can be affected by a variety of other factors, including where you are in the world, the season, and the local weather patterns. Sometimes, you can score offshore winds all day. Othertimes, you get skunked with howling onshores from dawn to dusk. So you can have an idea of the conditions before you go out, you can monitor local weather and surf reports/forecasts. Keep in mind, surf forecasting apps aren’t always accurate. Sometimes I’ve gone out when there’s supposed to be crappy tiny waves and onshore wind, and the surf has been AMAZING. Other times, Magic Seaweed calls for 5 stars and epic surf, and it totally sucks. You can look at the surf forecasts all you want, but sometimes the best way is to go and see for yourself.
Adjusting your surfing technique for offshore vs. onshore waves
Adjusting your surfing technique for onshore versus offshore waves can help you make the most of the different wave and wind conditions. In general, offshore waves are smoother and more organized, while onshore waves tend to be more choppy and disorganized. Here are some techniques to keep in mind for each type of wave:
Offshore waves tend to be steeper and faster, but with a strong offshore wind it can be difficult to paddle into the wave. You might need to paddle slightly harder, or for slightly longer than you usually would to catch waves in strong offshore surf.
Since onshore waves tend to be slower and less steep, they might be easier to paddle into, but you’re going to need to work harder to stay in the wave.
With that said, don’t get too caught up in the nuances between onshore vs. offshore winds. You’re going to have the best time if you simply go out, surf, and aim to have fun.
Offshore vs. onshore winds- conclusion
In conclusion, understanding the difference between offshore vs. onshore winds is crucial for any surfer hoping to paddle out in the best conditions possible. If you know the wind is going to turn from offshore to onshore around 8am, it might be worth setting those alarms and getting out there for dawn patrol!
If you’re just starting out, don’t pay too much mind to the winds, but it’s still good to know and understand how winds affect surfing.
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