Breaking waves. We fantasize about them. We chase them. We ride them. We mythologize them. But we often overlook the incredible forces that create them. Why do waves break? One allure of riding waves is the unpredictable nature of their breaking. We can study oceanography to understand the mechanics. We can dedicate ourselves to a spot for years, knowing it’s every mood. But no two waves are exactly the same. At the same spot, during the same swell, even within the same set. There are many forces acting to move water in that beloved motion.
The energy comes from far away; thousands of miles of open ocean. Differences in atmospheric pressure push air in an attempt to equalize. Wind transfers kinetic energy into the water forming surface gravity waves. They propagate and organize as they travel through the ocean as swell.