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Surfers have a natural affinity with physics and with this comes a great ability to spot the best wave, this we probably already know, but thanks to some hefty research in a French lab our skills in reading the wave (and all other conditions at play) have been scientifically mapped to find that perfect situation.

French scientists at the Ecole Polytechnique in Paris have created a ‘mini-Maui’ in the lab to better understand and quantify wave scenarios and how these are read and reacted to by the surfers.

But why does all of this matter, and more to the point why do we need scientists to tell us what we probably already know?

We all know the basic principles of the sport – we paddle out from the shore, then hang around until a decent wave comes in to view. When this happens the bobbing game is over and rapid acceleration is needed to reach the same speed as the wave we are trying to catch.

Get this correct and the board and rider will be transported along the surface of the water, shore-bound for the ride of their lives. Keen surfers are making a vast number of calculations in their mind, many without even realising it. Size, break point and speed all play huge parts in whether this is going to be a ‘good one’.


Always thinking: Surfers are constantly analysing and making decisions so much so that most choices are subconscious

The study in Paris was trying to figure out the exact conditions of the surfboard and waves that make this ride possible. The team mimicked various waves, from slow and steady to big steep breakers, in a 40cm tank using pieces of balsa wood to represent the surfboards.

But why does all of this matter, and more to the point why do we need scientists to tell us what we probably already know?

One outcome of the investigation could lead to better designed surfboards but another (and perhaps more interesting) could be the development of boats being able to use waves to deliver goods to the shore. In the future cargo ships could be fitted with machines that can create waves with specifically controlled amplitudes and wavelengths so that ‘large, wave-riding surfboards’ can float their cargo to shore.

While this technology sounds a little far-fetched and a long way off, the rate at which we are seeing technology develop, there is nothing you would want to write off too early.

Images with thanks from:

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