A lot of good useful information for us windsurfers comes from “Small Amplitude Wave Theory”, which is one of the most simple and most widely applicable mathematic principals for quantifying the movement of waves. There are many other theories as well, each having their place. I studied this stuff for a few years, way back in my university days and have forgotten most of it, aside from the basic principles that apply to our beloved Lake Ontario. Despite immersing myself in Coastal Engineering, somehow I still ended up living on a lake, rather than say an ocean, where arguably I should be residing. But, I digress…
Here's a shot of Guy Trudeau at Mac's last year, taken by Nic Chapleau. Looks like a sweet wave to me!
Here is a link to the wiki on the topic. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Water_waves
So, without getting into all the crazy math containing far too many greek symbols, which I have long since forgotten anyway, here are some of the more basic wave principles and observations I took away from all this education, as they relate to Lake Ontario and Sandbanks.
• What is 'Swell'? First off, some terminology: Lake waves, by definition, are not “swell”. Lake waves are more accurately referred to as “locally-generated seas”, or in other words, waves produced by the action of the wind itself, locally. Some refer to this as “wind swell”, which kinda makes sense, but there is actually no true "swell" on the Great Lakes. Swell, by definition, is wave action created by distant wind events. By travelling long distances and moving away from the storm, the waves become much more organized with longer periods, wavelength and speed. In particular, storms send their higher energy, lower frequency waves further abroad, and this is true ‘swell’. Despite the Great Lakes being pretty dang big pools, they are generally too small for true ‘swell’, and generally too small for tides as well.
• Fetch. The wave period, height and degree of wave organization is also a function of fetch (distance over which the waves can develop) and duration of the storm. The longer a storm blows, the more organized and longer the waves become (tending towards a "fully developed sea"). At Sandbanks, if a really good storm whips up, we usually get 5-7 second waves. Heaven forbid it should blow for a day or two straight, we may even get up to 8s waves, in which case let the ejaculation begin.This is the ‘peak’ wave period, or the period of the wave spectrum with the most energy. The peak wave period can be either wind duration- or fetch-limited. In the case of Sandbanks, the limitation rapidly becomes fetch – we’ve got 200km at best. Anyway – this has two impacts: First, the waves are generally a lot messier than ocean swell since there is a fairly broad ‘wave spectrum’, in that there are waves with all sorts of different frequencies (periods) and directions out there, interacting with both positive and negative interference. Second, the biggest and best waves are still relatively small and limited in wavelength, meaning the waves are spaced fairly close together.
• Getting beat down. Speculation: I believe that a good indicator of what we feel when we get shmucked by a good wave and have our gear and gitch extracted from our clenched bodies, is wave ‘power’. Wave power is a function of wave period and height squared. So don’t think you can dominate the pesky 7 second waves at Sandbanks, then cruise on in to Ho’okipa and own the place. Typical true ocean swell there is probably more like 10-15s, and up to 15-25s on the big gnarly days. That’s why sailors like us from eastern Canada get pummeled and really feel it when we go to Hawaii. It truly is bigger and much bad-er!
Here's a shot of me with a weak bottom turn at Mac's last year, by Nic Chapleau. Despite looking like a nice head-high wave, they are pretty gutless. Damn fun though!
• Wave Speed. In general, the longer the wave period, and hence wavelength (these are related), the faster the waves travel. While waves do slow down as they ‘touch bottom’ and diffract (wrap) and shoal (‘jack up and break’), to be discussed in Part II, this trend still holds true. In Sandbanks, on the good days, one of the bigger shortcomings to the otherwise stellar front-side riding is the speed of the waves – they are simply too slow, making it fairly easy to outrun the waves on bottom turns, making it a lengthy and challenging approach back towards the wave to shmack the lip. This has a great potential to result in backwinding. While at Sandbanks, the psuedo-‘side-shore’ conditions (wave vs wind direction) are partly to blame, but so is the slow speed of the waves.
Here's a wee shot of JFLemay at Mac's, by Nic Chapleau:
Anyway, that is Part I of my blog-length dissertation on some basics of wave terminology and physics as it applies to real-world observations. Some of it straight out of the literature (interpreted by me), and some of it based on real-world observation in alignment with principles I have learned. Part II gets a little more 'interesting' and talks about wave wrapping and breaking...
Here's a shot by Ilan Artzy from the beach. This is all totally onshore...
Please let me know by posting a comment if this type of blog post is at all interesting or just too damn dry and boring. I tried to interject the science with the odd photo of some of the more decent waves from Sandbanks. Most photos courtesy of Nic Chapleau (unless otherwise noted), and the text-book images are all from the USACE Coastal Engineering Manual –Part 2. I had to buy an older version of that manual back in Uni for well over $100 so I don’t feel bad at all about snipping pieces out of the new on-line version. That was a lot of frickin' beer money I will have you know... Let’s hope the US military doesn’t come and send a drone over my house.
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