On the weekend, while I was participating in my very first Victorian open water swim in the calm bay water of Brighton, my old home of Bondi was being smashed by a massive storm swell.
As the waves rose up on the sandbanks and pounded the shore, crowds watched on in awe as mother nature unleashed her power and fury.
For open water swimmers, the cozzies were kept safely tucked in the gear bag and thoughts quickly shifted to when they’d be able to enjoy the ocean again.
However, for surfers and bodysurfers there would’ve naturally been something else on their mind, and that would’ve been whether ‘Huey’ the surf God would be kind to them.
When the storm has settled and normal transition has resumed, all eyes will shift to the shape of the sandbanks Huey has left behind, because when it comes to the quality of waves, the surf God can giveth and taketh away.
These large storm swells bring with them immense energy and moving water, and on wave-dominated beaches with sandbanks, troughs and channels, this water can reshape the topography of the seafloor and quality of the waves above.
If the sandbanks have been good prior to the storm, there’ll be prayers for them to be left untouched. If they’ve been rubbish, there’ll be some quiet conversations being had with Huey about delivering a gift from the Gods.
Whilst this reshaping of the sandbanks and waves can happen over the normal course of time – even under small, low-energy swells – the bigger the swell event, the greater the chance of a significant shakeup.
Surf breaks that are located over reefs, around headlands or formed artificially by manmade structures won’t be affected all that much, this is the reason why famous waves like Teahupo’o and Jaws are so consistent for surfers. Over at Manly, they won’t be removing the pipe in the middle of the beach anytime soon because this structure plays an important role in shaping the sandbanks.
Apart from wave quality, if the seafloor topography has changed then you can expect other ocean conditions to have changed too.
Rips may have moved, and could be narrower with stronger currents, shallow banks may be home to dumping waves, longshore troughs may have appeared generating a lateral sweep, or a shore break might now be present.
Or perhaps the opposite might be true, and you’ve been gifted the perfect ocean swimming environment.
As ocean swimmers we’re acutely aware that the ocean is a dynamic environment, so it comes as no surprise that conditions change over time.
So, whether you’re praying for Huey to deliver the perfect wave, or you’re simply hoping for lovely ocean swimming conditions, your first visit to your local beach after a storm swell is a great time to reassess and really get to know your new environment.