Different Types of Surf Breaks

When you first start to surf you might think, “all the waves look the same”. However, that is definitely NOT the case! There are so many kinds of waves and breaks that incorrectly reading the ocean can put surfers in dangerous situations. Most importantly, it is crucial to understand the different types of surf breaks and the waves they create so you can choose the best waves for your skill level. 

A Beachbreak is one type of surf break
A typical, beginner-friendly beachbreak.

Beach Breaks

This type of break occurs when waves form on a sand bar or sandy ocean floor. This is often the safest area for beginners to learn to surf because if they wipeout, there’s only sand beneath them and they probably won’t get hurt. Generally, beach breaks are less consistent in wave shape and formation as the sand frequently shifts based on storms and ocean currents. As the sand changes so will the shapes, locations and sizes of the waves.

One of the different types of surf breaks is a beachbreak
The Wedge is known for gnarly, often very walled, shorebreak.

The waves at beach breaks often form closer to the shore and have a tendency to close out. However, there are definitely incredible beach breaks to be found all around the word. 

Local Spots: Venice Beach, Santa Monica Pier, Huntington Beach, Tamarack Beach (Carlsbad), Black’s Beach (San Diego)

World-Famous Spots: The Wedge (Newport Beach, CA), Supertubos (Portugal), Hossegor (France)


Point Breaks

Rincon is a type of surf break called a pointbreak
Rincon’s endless waves. Photo Credit: californiabeaches.com

Point Breaks are known for incredibly long, often very consistent, waves. In this situation, the coast juts out into the ocean dramatically and forms an obvious point. The waves break first at the point and then slowly roll into the rest of the shore. This creates waves with long shoulder sections and lots of room to maneuver. If you go to the correct break, it can be a great place to work on turns, maneuver on the wave, and practice going down the line. 

Some other benefits to point breaks are that the paddle out isn’t too difficult because you can go around the impact zone. When the right swell hits, the waves are usually repetitive and endless!! However, the downside is that the peak of the wave typically forms in the same exact spot every time – right at the point. The point often becomes very crowded and at more famous breaks, it can be difficult for beginners to catch any waves due to the crowd. 

Local Spots: Malibu, Swami’s (Encinitas)

World-Famous Spots: Jeffrey’s Bay (South Africa), Rincon (Santa Barbara, CA)

Reef Breaks

A reefbreak is one of the different types of surf breaks
Pipeline is an intense, powerful wave.

In this case, waves form when the water hits a reef on the bottom of the ocean floor. Some of the best and biggest waves in the world are reef breaks and they often have insane tubes. Reef breaks are often incredibly consistent because the reef doesn’t shift as sand does. Places like Cardiff Reef or Pipes in the San Diego area are great for beginners because the waves are fun and the reef is very safe. It isn’t sharp and mostly consists of  ocean grasses.

However, reef breaks can also be extremely dangerous depending on the size of the wave and the type of reef. At places like Pipeline on the North Shore of Oahu, the waves form over a sharp coral reef and the reef is submerged only about 2-3 feet under water in most spots. With massive, 20 foot barrels breaking onto shallow water and a huge reef, no wonder it’s one of the most gnarly waves in the world!

Local Spots: Terra Mar (Carlsbad), Cardiff Reef

World-Famous Spots: Pipeline (Hawaii), Teahupoo (Tahiti), Cloudbreak (Fiji)

Luckily for us, we have great examples of all three of these types of brakes right in our backyard in Southern California!

It’s awesome that we have such variety in our beaches and such amazing waves, yet also still have so many great spots for beginners. Our local breaks are super mellow and beginner-friendly – making Southern California an epic spot to learn how to ride different types of surf breaks!

Wavehuggers teaches at 19 different beaches in Southern California, including all three types of surf breaks! The perks of this are that you get to choose exactly where you’d like to surf. Really want to learn how to navigate a reef break or feel what it’s like to surf a point break? Choose where you would like to refine your skills and we will meet you there for your next lesson!



10 Best Beach Breaks on Earth

10 Best Point Breaks on Earth

5 Best Point Breaks on the Planet

A Beginner’s Guide to Surf Breaks

Wave Types