ICHINOMIYA, JAPAN (AP) – Surfing’s debut at the Olympics shows that wave surfers are also masters of science – in climatology, meteorology, and oceanography, to be exact.
Professional wave anglers are, by definition, atmospheric science fanatics because few—or perhaps none—sports rely so heavily on such an uncontrollable variable: weather.
And few know themselves on such an uneven court, literally, the ocean.
Surfers are known to study all relevant factors in detail.
“Every time the wind blows, which direction does it blow?” asked Owen Wright, 31, who is competing for Australia. “We don’t just look at the weather and say, ‘Oh, it’s nice and sunny! “Because we may know (the wind) is probably off the coast. We don’t just say, ‘Oh, it’s raining!’ It all always has to do with the way the tide looks.”
At the Olympics, organizers prepare for at least three days of competition over eight days, starting on July 25. Surfing competitions are determined on a given day, based on weather forecast, wave height, wind direction, tidal direction and temperature, among other aspects of scientific data.”
“All people who go into the ocean, whether they are surfers or not, are amateur meteorologists or oceanographers,” said Kurt Kurt, a Surfline meteorologist and official meteorologist for Olympic surfing.
But the numbers only provide information up to a certain point. Weather data is just part of the equation to assess what the vast ocean will hold, which can change between half an hour’s heat and the next.
Waves are formed by the way ocean swells interact with bottom oceans, which are called valleys. Beach currents, as in Tsurigasaki, the sport’s Olympic venue, are linked to sandbars, which can change over time or due to storms.
In simple terms, competitive surfing is all about deciding which wave to take and which movement will best take advantage of what the ocean brings.
Surfers have to stay prepared, constantly watching the waves to guess what they will best ride.
How often do the waves come? How many waves are there in a series? “Which in that chain offers the best quality?” said Richard Schmidt, a retired professional surfer who now runs a surf school in Santa Cruz, California.
The first wave in the chain will be a bit bumpy, but the second and third waves will be more bumpy, because the edges are better formed than that first wave. So you watch the waves a little bit and kind of decide where their quality starts to rise.”
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