How long you should be watching the surf before swimming

What’s the right amount of time to observe the surf before going for a swim?

Five minutes? 10? 20?

Before you hit the water, it’s important to respect the ocean, and your own safety, by taking the appropriate time to observe the conditions.

It’s easy to get excited about going for your swim, but skimping on getting a good feel for the conditions could end in a poor swimming experience, or put you in unnecessary danger.

I’m going to assume as an ocean swimmer you know how to read a surf report and how to read the ocean (if not, you should watch our ocean awareness lessons and participate in one of our clinics).

At its most basic, your observation of the surf should include watching how the waves are breaking, looking for wave patterns and cycles, and observing how the water is moving around the wave zone.

It should also include watching where and how other people are using the water.

How long you observe the surf will depend on the size of the waves because as the waves get bigger, they get more powerful and result in more water movement, therefore demanding more respect.

One way of working out how much time you should spend observing the conditions is by using this rule of thumb: Spend a minimum of 10 minutes when the wave height is two feet or less, then, for every extra foot add five minutes, i.e.

  • 0-2 feet: 10 minutes
  • 3 feet: 15 minutes
  • 4 feet: 20 minutes
  • 5 feet: 25 minutes
  • 6 feet plus: 30 minutes

If conditions look messy and/or you’re not quite feeling it, then add more time. If you haven’t swum at the location at all, or not much, it’s a good idea to double the time and talk to the locals as well.

Having a good grasp on the conditions will not only keep you safe, but it’ll also help you swim more efficiently and have more fun.

Swimming at a flat water location? You still need to take time to observe the water. The water might look inviting, but there are hidden dangers to watch out for, particularly currents, wind, and recreational craft and boat users.

Next time you go for a swim, grab your swim buddies and watch the surf together, you can catch up on the goss and get a good grasp of the conditions at the same time.

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