Understanding swell period is one of the most crucial aspects in learning to surf. We are going to briefly point out some pros and cons to different swell periods, and what gear to pack for the paddle out in each category.

Long Period Swell

Any swell in which each wave peaks and breaks at a span of 12 seconds or greater is considered long period. The waves literally break slower because of this between time.

Long period swell isn’t for big, long or floaty gear. Because the distance from a wave’s high point to its low point takes more time, your drop-in takes more time as well, so it is weaker. Having a thicker board prevents the wave from pushing your board as far. The lack of push near the high point of the wave is relieved by having a thinner board, since it is lighter and more pushable.

Short period swell is the opposite. The period is usually shorter than 8 seconds, so your waves are weaker but more frequent. However, despite being weaker, short period waves are often easier to paddle into especially with a thicker board. You need volume—more board inches and liters—when you pack for a short period day.

It is also possible to have mid-period swells and combo swells (two or more swells coming in at once). Check your breaks and see what swell periods and directions work best.

Written by Learn To Surf instructor, Jake McNulty.
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