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Artifical reef for surfing

Notes about design

A well designed surf spot should have these features:


  1. An “island” of shallow water where the waves break, surrounded by relatively deep water where waves do not break, for safety.
  2. A shape that will cause the waves to break so that the level of difficulty remains constant, even as the wave size changes. A bigger wave should hit its breaking depth at a 45 angle to be safe, whereas a small wave can hit almost head-on and still be safe. That is why when waves are small surfers go to beach breaks, and when the big waves come they go to the points and harbor entrances.



Now let’s go over the design bit by bit, starting from shore. The distance from shore is relatively close as shown. Maybe too close. But ideally it is a short paddle, and close enough for taking pictures.


Board recovery area: Right before the surfing area begins, there is a relatively deep area. This will dampen any waves, and lost boards will tend to hang here until wind or current causes drift. At least they won’t ride a wave on their own for miles. This is just to save chasing lost boards.


2’ contour. This area would be for the smallest waves for this spot. It would be good for teachers, and ideally would have a bottom like sand that was good for walking in bare feet. Teachers often need to give a push for new guys to catch the wave.


3’ contour. This area would have medium waves that broke along the contour. Then the waves would stop on the sides as the water got to be too deep. The surfers could paddle out just beyond the waves as long as bigger waves were not coming.


5’ contour. The pointed shape of this would cause the biggest waves (about 6’) to break in a peak, then gradually pick up lateral speed following the contour. Then the waves would stop as above.


Paddle out channels. The water here is deeper than the waves could possibly break in, so will always be calm. There would generally be a current taking surfers out to the peak. The waves that break over the spot push water in, then the water returns in the deeper channels.


Protection ridge. As shown it is just a head on break, but it would be much better as a bigger version of the inside break. Ideally the outside reef from a beginner spot would be a beginner break, too. The main function of the protection ridge is to cause any wave over 6’ to break out there, and not make it to the surfing area inside. These big waves would re-form into smaller waves if there was enough distance. That way the inside area is surfable any day the waves are bigger than 2’.



Other versions: This design is mostly for beginners and medium level surfers. It would not take too much adjusting to make a killer reef for advanced surfers. It would look similar, just have flatter contours going out deeper. The 2’ contour could be almost flat, causing a screamer little barrel that would almost close out. And the 3’ could be like the 2’ one above, etc. The outside reef from an advanced inside break could be a world class contest break.


Ideally the reef would be good for wild life. There are always a few flat days (or a flat season on some shores), and snorkeling could be an added plus. The breaking waves most of the time give good oxygenation, cleansing, etc. If there were “bug holes” made in the reef-making material, animals of various sizes and needs for shelter could live there.


Some design could go into how the reef appeared in aerial photography.


Parking does not have to be too close as long as there is a pull in for cars to drop off boards and bodies.


There is a great reference book at the University of Hawaii with all the engineering stuff:


Recreational Surf Parameters

By James R. Walker

Feb 1974

UH James K. K. Look Laboratory of Oceanographic Engineering

Tech report #30

UH Lib: GC1 .L663 no. 30




A small version of a reef, made out of polyethylene, can be seen in US patent 5, 207,531, by Gary Ross, 5-4-93, of Highwave, Inc., Ventura CA.

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