A California researcher has determined the exact location on an ocean wave where a surfer gains the greatest speed to get the best ride.
The “sweet spot” for a surfer is inside the curl of the breaking wave, according to the study by Nick Pizzo, a postdoctoral researcher at the University of California – San Diego.
Pizzo applied principles of physics at the ocean’s surface in order to study how energy is transferred from the underlying wave to a surfer.
“Based upon the speed and geometry of the wave, you can determine the conditions to surf a wave and also where on the wave the maximum acceleration, or ‘sweet spot,’ will be located,” said Pizzo, an avid surfer.
The study may have implications far beyond surfing, said Pizzo.
When a wave breaks at the ocean surface, currents are generated and water droplets in the form of sea spray are ejected from the ocean into the atmosphere, the study said. These kinds of small-scale processes are important for improving weather and climate models and better forecast major storm events and the future climate.
“The study was motivated by important scientific questions that lead to a better description of the upper ocean to be used in weather and climate models,” said Pizzo. “By studying the acceleration of a theoretical surfer on a wave, we can provide a better description of the currents generated by breaking waves, leading to an improved understanding of the momentum and energy budget between the atmosphere and ocean.”
Breaking waves are fundamental to weather prediction, when storms and hurricanes are strongly influenced by the physical processes generated by breaking waves, as well as the longer-term evolution of the climate, Pizzo said.
“We need to understand the little things to get the big picture,” he added.
The study was published in the Journal of Fluid Mechanics.