WE ARE GOING TO SURF A REEF TODAY!
When heard for the first time, this statement always gets the same reaction from any beginner/intermediate surfer. Their usually happy-go-lucky, up-for-anything, calm faces flash a look of sheer panic when the word “reef” is mentioned.
YOU LOOK WORRIED..
A reef break is a wave that breaks over anything that is not sand. It
can be coral, boulders, bedrock, shipwrecks or even artificially
created reefs using sand bags. Some reefs can be jagged and nasty while
others can be flat and covered with moss.
What is a reef break?
The simple answer, very often, is “Yes”. Reefs get a bad press
because there are many perceived dangers associated with reefs that, in
some cases, can be fully justified. Waves like Pipe in Hawaii and Teahupoo
in Tahiti are incredibly powerful breaks with shallow, sharp reefs
underneath them and are extremely dangerous (not an ideal place for your
first lesson!). However, for every super heavy reef break there will
be a mellow, cruisy reef around the corner that will have perfect waves,
even for complete beginners. Calm reef breaks have many advantages
and, as long as you are aware of the potential dangers, surfing a reef
can be very safe and, in most cases, easier than a beach break.
“Is it safe?”
Sure, you might, but when was the last time you hit the bottom at a
beach break? If you are surfing “out the back” there should be very few
times you have actually hit the bottom hard. If you are hitting the
bottom often when surfing, it might be time to reconsider your whole
technique – aiming for the bottom is not exactly the goal when surfing!
“Will I hit the bottom?”
When surfing a reef, there are a few wipeout techniques needed that you might not have considered when surfing a soft, sandy beach break. Obviously, diving head first into the water is not going to end well (and, really, you shouldn’t do this at a beach break either!). When wiping out, fall backwards (off the back of the board) and onto your back so you don’t penetrate the water, covering your face and head with your hands.
You’re also likely to hit the bottom if you ride the wave straight and into the shallow part of the reef. The goal will be to trim across the wave into a nice, deep channel or to pull off the wave before it gets too shallow. When riding a reef, you never want to “ride the wave all the way to the beach” like you do when surfing whitewater at beach breaks because the “beach” will be shallow and often sharp, rock or coral. Bad for your board and fins…and bad for your poor little toes! You should not have to put your feet down very often on a reef (it’s not good for the coral or marine-life anyway), but if you do, you’ll find that wearing reef booties will save your feet from any nicks and scrapes from the bottom.
So, as long as you don’t paddle yourself out at Pipe on an NSP during your second surf session, there is every chance you will survive surfing a reef break.
See, there’s nothing to worry about! And the advantages to surfing a reef break greatly outnumber any of your concerns.
The real advantage to a reef is that the bottom is fixed. This means
that the wave will always peak up in a similar place, unlike a beach
break where the sand is constantly moving. A fixed bottom reef makes it
much easier to be in the right place when the waves roll in.
Reefs have a fixed peak.
At a good quality reef you will either be spending your session going left or trimming right. It will always peel in the same direction, at the same spot. This takes out a lot of the variables and can help you progress quickly, unlike a beach break where the waves break at different spots and will peel in all directions.
This is the real beauty of surfing a reef. Channels are areas of
deep water next to a reef where, no matter how big the waves are on the
reef, the water is always calm. This means no more fighting your way
out the back through mountains of whitewater after each wave!
Hallelujah! At a good reef break you will be able to paddle around the
waves (in the channel) to get yourself back into position. Sweet! Having
a channel also gives you a place to relax in safety in between sets if
it all becomes a bit overwhelming.
Reefs have channels.
One of the most over quoted lines in surfing is “no two waves are
ever the same”. This is true, but you can get waves that are pretty
damn close to the same on a perfect reef break! With the waves breaking
at the same spot (more or less), you’re going to catch more waves. You
won’t have to “hunt your waves down” like you do at a beach break. If
you can catch a lot of similar waves in a session, then it’s easier to
experiment and try new techniques which will increase your rate of
improvement. Sounds good to me!
Reefs are predictable.
Sick of paddling, duck dives and turtle rolls? Get dropped off at the
peak, surf your brains out on predictable, quality waves, and then
paddle back to the boat without having to do the “reef dance”
(balancing, leaping, falling while climbing over dry reef to the
shore). And nothing is better than a cool beverage on deck after a few
short paddle strokes.
You can surf from a boat.
A large percentage of the best breaks in the world are over reef, so don’t let such a little word scare you. Next time you hear the word “reef” get excited, not scared! Just make sure you surf reef breaks that are suitable for your level.
Here is a quick list of super mellow reef breaks that are suitable for all levels (even complete 1st timers). Don’t let the fear of surfing over a reef put you off.
Swimming Pools, Fiji
Tortugas, Costa Rica (Close to our base in Nosara!)
Farms, Secret Atoll, Maldives
Wakiki, Oahu, Hawaii
Shark Bay, Fuerteventura, Canary Islands
Medewi, Bali, Indonesia
Nonyas, South Male Atoll, Maldives
Boneyards, Fuerteventura, Canary Islands
Inside Puena Point, Oahu, Hawaii
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