Reef breaks are wave that break over anything that is not sand; like coral, boulder and bedrock. Because most people don’t begin surfing on reefs, many surfers are skeeved by them. Contributing Editor and Personal Surf Coach Alex Wilkinson demystifies surfing reef breaks.
For every super heavy reef break there will be a mellow, cruisy reef around the corner that will have perfect waves, even for complete beginners. Calm reef breaks have many advantages and, as long as you are aware of the potential dangers, surfing a reef can be very safe and, in most cases, easier than a beach break.
“Will I hit the bottom?”
Sure, you might. When surfing a reef, there are a few wipeout techniques needed that you might not have considered when surfing a soft, sandy beach break. When wiping out, fall backwards (off the back of the board) and onto your back so you don’t penetrate the water, covering your face and head with your hands.
You’re also likely to hit the bottom if you ride the wave straight and into the shallow part of the reef. The goal will be to trim across the wave into a nice, deep channel or to pull off the wave before it gets too shallow.
When riding a reef, you never want to “ride the wave all the way to the beach” like you do when surfing whitewater at beach breaks because the “beach” will be shallow and often sharp, rock or coral.
Bad for your board and fins…and bad for your poor little toes! You should not have to put your feet down very often on a reef (it’s not good for the coral or marine-life anyway), but if you do, you’ll find that wearing reef booties will save your feet from any nicks and scrapes from the bottom.
The advantages to surfing a reef break greatly outnumber any of your concerns.
Reefs have a fixed peak.
The real advantage to a reef is that the bottom is fixed. This means that the wave will always peak up in a similar place, unlike a beach break where the sand is constantly moving. A fixed bottom reef makes it much easier to be in the right place when the waves roll in.
Reefs have a fixed direction.
At a good quality reef you will either be spending your session going left or trimming right. It will always peel in the same direction, at the same spot. This takes out a lot of the variables and can help you progress quickly, unlike a beach break where the waves break at different spots and will peel in all directions.
Reefs have channels.
This is the real beauty of surfing a reef. Channels are areas of deep water next to a reef where, no matter how big the waves are on the reef, the water is always calm. This means no more fighting your way out the back through mountains of whitewater after each wave! Hallelujah!
At a good reef break you will be able to paddle around the waves (in the channel) to get yourself back into position. Sweet! Having a channel also gives you a place to relax in safety in between sets if it all becomes a bit overwhelming.
Reefs are predictable.
One of the most over quoted lines in surfing is “no two waves are ever the same”. This is true, but you can get waves that are pretty damn close to the same on a perfect reef break! With the waves breaking at the same spot (more or less), you’re going to catch more waves. You won’t have to “hunt your waves down” like you do at a beach break. If you can catch a lot of similar waves in a session, then it’s easier to experiment and try new techniques which will increase your rate of improvement.
You can surf from a boat.
Sick of paddling, duck dives and turtle rolls? Get dropped off at the peak, surf your brains out on predictable, quality waves, and then paddle back to the boat without having to do the “reef dance” (balancing, leaping, falling while climbing over dry reef to the shore).
A large percentage of the best breaks in the world are over reef, so don’t let such a little word scare you. Next time you hear the word “reef” get excited, not scared! Just make sure you surf reef breaks that are suitable for your level.
For a list and links to mellow reef breaks suitable for all levels of surfers, click here and scroll to the end of the article. Have you ever surfed a reef break? If so, do you agree with Pureline Surf Coaching Personal Surf Coach Alex Wilkinson? Which do you prefer? Reef breaks or beach breaks?