How To Find Waves Along A Steep Coastline by Ben Weiland
Ben Weiland of the Arctic Surf Blog (www.arcticsurfblog.com) agreed to collaborate with Kurungabaa and generously donate one of his recent postings for all of our readers. Take the time to check out his wonderful website for in-depth arctic surf research-it is outstanding.
If you have ever poured over maps of the higher latitudes in search of new surf breaks, you probably have noticed the countless curves and bends in the region’s coastlines that hint at an astonishing array of point breaks. These mountainous fingers jutting out to sea are commonly known as fjords. Most fjords are found beginning around 60°N and 45°S.
In these colder regions, lots of ice forms and landscapes become heavily glaciated. It appears as if these glaciers carved out narrow, “U” shaped valleys as gravity pulled the ice down toward sea level. These twists and turns in the coast look promising for wave discovery, but the reality is not as ideal as one might hope.
Fjords can be extremely deep, which means there is no shallow sea floor for waves to gain traction. Waves break in a water depth that is about 1.3 times the height of the wave, depending on the bathymetry of the sea floor. A steepness of 1:12 is an approximate slope ratio for a barreling wave. As the steepness of the slope increases, the wave doesn’t break at all. Instead, it surges up against the shore, or in our case a cliff, and explodes. Its energy dissipates into deeper water. That’s not very useful for finding peeling point breaks. But the opportunity for surfable waves in these regions still exists.
The arctic wave explorer should consider other geological contributors to shallow sea floor transitions. Who are these contributors? Look for river-mouths, who continually push sand outward and deposit it along the coast. Glaciers sitting at higher elevations melt as they approach sea level, and the resulting melt-water drains through a flood plain and out to sea, taking rocks and sediment with it.
Another feature to consider is the abrupt rock ledge located just below the water’s surface. This shallow fist breaks incoming lines into slabbing barrels and is commonly found in steep coastal terrain. And in general, make sure the coastline in question is open to swell, so that waves can sneak in and find an optimal place to break before their energy is lost.
Once you have found a potential fjord with waves, the next question will be how to get there. Many countries with fjords have well-kept scenic roads that zag into deep valleys and traverse through mountain tunnels, while other regions are only accessible by boat or kayak. But if you find waves in a difficult-to-access region, chances are you will have it all to yourself.