How do bottom types influence wave quality?

How do bottom types influence wave quality?

What will we see in this article?

  • Point breaks
  • Reef-breaks
  • Beach-breaks
  • Other types of surf spots

In the articles I write about surfing, I always try to pass the best wind and wave conditions for each peak. I believe that some of you who have read these articles may have already gone through the situation of planning in anticipation of the right conditions, and even then, the peak does not work. Don't swear at me or say that adrenaline10 was wrong. To make a decent wave forecast, ripple and wind are not always enough.

In Brazil and in some other places, we always hear that a certain surf peak did not work because it “had no bottom”. But why does this background influence so much in the quality and frequency of the waves? Not every fund influences that, but I have listed the main types below to help you understand better.

Before starting the bottom types, keep the information that the waves always break where there is a sudden decrease in depth.

Point breaks

Point-breaks are surf spots that have a rock bottom or on a slab. Because they are completely fixed, they are much more consistent than other types of fund. To work well, they need only swell in the right direction and size and favorable wind.

biggest waves in Brazil

Another very big advantage of point-breaks is the easy positioning of the surfer, since the waves will almost always break in the same place. There is no need to hunt the waves. Point-breaks also generally have a clear entry channel at the peak, which saves a lot of effort. The great disadvantage of this type of fund you may know when you fall from a wave or take a cow, but I hope that does not happen. =)

Brazil has good point-breaks on beaches, such as Matinhos in Paraná, Praia do Silveira in Santa Catarina, as well as some slabs further inland, such as Laje de Jaguaruna, one of the largest waves in Brazil when it works.

Some well-known peaks in the world are also point-breaks:

  • Rincon, in Santa Barbara - California
  • Honolua Bay in Maui - Hawaii
  • Supertubes, in Jeffrey’s Bay - South Africa
  • Chicama, Peru
  • Snapper Rocks in Gold Coast - Australia


The reef-breaks, quite rare in Brazil, but very common in the rest of the world, are the surf spots that have coral bottom. They work in much the same way as point-breaks, the nature of the background only changes. They are also quite regular because they depend only on the direction and size of the swell and favorable winds.

It also has the same advantages and disadvantages of point-breaks: regular formation, usually in the same position, and entrance channel, as positive points, and shallow coral, very sharp at the bottom, as negative.

As I mentioned, in Brazil they are very rare, with predominance in the northeast. An example is the scar reef in Bahia.

In other parts of the world there is a plethora of famous reef breaks:

  • Teahupoo, Tahiti
  • Cloudbreak in Fiji
  • Pipeline, Backdoor, Off the Wall, Jaws and Sunset, Hawaii
  • Desert Point and Uluwatu, Indonesia


Most of the surf spots in Brazil are composed of beach breaks, that is, peaks with a sandy bottom. This is certainly one of the main answers for the fact that the surf spots are so irregular and without frequency here.

Beach breaks can break classics, but they depend not only on wind and waves, but also on the formation of the bottom, since the sand moves all the time. This is one of the reasons why many wave forecasting websites and applications make mistakes. It is very difficult to predict how the fund will look.

wave forecasting websites and apps

One difficulty with beach breaks is that each day the waves seem to form in a different place on the same beach. Sometimes it varies on the same day and they can break in several places at the same time. So, on big days, if you're going  to surf   at a beach break, go prepared  to paddle   and take sets in your head. However, it is much less unpleasant to take a cow at a beach break than at other funds.

Recently, several surf spots in Rio de Janeiro, such as arpoador and barra da tijuca, have gone a long time without surfing. After a swell with southwestern swells, the harpoon and several ditches were back in operation. Taking the example of the harpooner, which is easier to analyze, see that the southwest swell is the best to accumulate sand in the corner of the beach, causing the waves to start breaking further away from the shore:

surf spots in Rio de Janeiro

It is not worth much to cite examples of beach breaks in Brazil, as 90% of the surf spots have a sandy bottom. Think of any beach you've ever surfed. If it had a sandy bottom, it was a beach break.

There are some famous beach breaks in the world:

  • Nazaré and Supertubos, in Portugal
  • Hossegor, France
  • Bells Beach, Australia
  • Other types of surf spots
  • Peaks in Bocas de Rios

The mouth of a river in the sea is usually a place where sand accumulates. In some cases this can yield good surf spots. Brazil has some good examples, such as Guarda do Embau. Other examples in the world are mundaka in Spain and merimbula bar in Australia.

Wreck Peaks

There are some examples of surf spots in the world - none in Brazil, as far as I know - formed by the difference in depth of the scattered sand generated by ships or pieces of shipwrecks. The prime example is the wreck in New South Wales, Australia.

Peaks in Breakwaters

The breakwater is a structure similar to an artificial or natural wall at the entrance to a port, bay or canal that aims to reduce the impact of waves. Usually the bottom is really sand, what changes is that the wave has been breaking along the breakwater. Brazil has some breakwater surf spots, such as Santos and Barra da Tijuca in Rio de Janeiro. Other good examples are Long Beach in New York and The Wedge in California.

Peaks with Artificial Backgrounds

In some places, to try to make the waves break farther from the coast, thus avoiding the collapse of buildings on the coast, or even just to form higher quality waves, artificial backgrounds simulating point breaks were implemented. One of the best results so far has been in Kovalam, India.

In Brazil, recently, the city of Maricá in the state of Rio de Janeiro opened a bid for the installation of an artificial fund. The idea is to follow a model resulting from a study by COPPE (UFRJ) that will be mobile and removable. The city's objective is to pump tourism and trade in the region. I hope it works and is copied on several beaches like São Conrado (Rio de Janeiro) and Piratininga (Niterói).

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Frequently Asked Questions

What role does the ocean floor play in the formation of surfable waves, and how do different bottom types affect a surfer's experience?
The ocean floor plays a crucial role in wave formation. Bottom types like sand, reef, and point breaks each create different wave shapes and behaviors. Sandy bottoms generally produce softer, slower waves, ideal for beginners, while reef and point breaks can create faster, more challenging waves preferred by experienced surfers.
Beyond the common beach, point, and reef breaks, what other types of surf spots exist, and what unique characteristics do they offer?
Other types of surf spots include river mouths, which can produce consistent, powerful waves, and artificial wave pools, offering controlled, predictable waves. Each type offers a unique surfing experience, from natural, changing conditions to uniform, practice-friendly waves.

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