The Inertia Founder
Hawaii has a largely misunderstood, but very simple system of measurement for surf. See graph above. Image: The Inertia

Hawaii has a largely misunderstood, but very simple system of measurement for surf. See graph above. Image: The Inertia


The Inertia

People sometimes get confused about how to measure the size of waves. And for something that is wholly objective, it’s impressive how wide the gap can be when two human beings look at a breaking wave and share their personal interpretation of its size.

I’m from the East Coast, and I can recall many times when friends and fellow stoked surfers would recount stories of tackling twelve- to fifteen-foot surf when epic storms passed through. After more than a decade of living in California, I’m fairly certain that no surfer in California describes the surf as reaching fifteen feet. I actually abandoned using numbers altogether shortly after I made that discovery. There was too much at risk. I only characterize a wave based on the size of its face with respect to a six-foot human body. And the largest I describe surf is “well overhead.” No numbers. Like I said, it’s safer that way. Body parts seemed more relatable when compared with unforgiving and wildly varying numbers.

But in Hawaii, there are only two sizes of waves: two-foot and six-foot. Two feet accommodates any wave face measuring eight feet (or less) in California/East Coast terms. Beyond eight feet, the Hawaiian scale swiftly jumps to six, where it stays forever, no matter how much larger the waves actually get. It’s simple. I like it. It’s either two-foot or six-foot. Two numbers that, ironically, mean a whole lot.

So…based on what we know now, how big is this Big Mac at Pipe pictured below?

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Pop quiz: How big is this wave? Photo: Jake Marote

Pop quiz: How big is this wave? Photo: Jake Marote

Editor’s Note: Thanks for checking out our sixth installment of the very simple, very true series Sick Graphs, where we illustrate unequivocal truths in surf, mountain, and outdoor sports. Check out past installments here. And if you’d like to suggest a topic to address, shoot us a note or hashtag it #SickGraphs on Instys, and we’ll have a gander.



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