Predicting the Waves: The Art of Surf Forecasting

X-Game Assignment: Worth 15 points (and a lot of learning!)

Due Date: 11:59 PM, Sunday, September 17, 2000

Recommended Reading: Making sense of tables, Making sense of graphs, Surf's Up!, Hit the Beach!, Ride the Tide!

See Sample Report Here: Sample Report for Predicting the Waves


So you don't surf, you rarely go to the beach and about the only wave you've ever encountered is the one that happens at sporting events? Fear not. The art of surf forecasting reaches beyond the domain of surfers and coastal engineers. It has a history rooted in ancient peoples and a beauty that borders on divinity. While introducing you to the mechanics of predicting the surf at any point on the globe, this exercise exposes you to the remarkable world of real-time science that is available on the world wide web. Even if you could care less about waves, I think you'll appreciate the remarkable views of our planet available at the click of a mouse. At the very least, you will gain a deeper understanding of the connections between physical, geological, chemical and biological processes on our planet.

Teamwork and Roles

This assignment requires that you team up with 3-4 other students. The minimum number in a group is three (3) and the maximum is five (5). Everyone must find a group. You will not receive any credit for this assignment if your group is less than three (3) or more than five (5). Don't worry! Groups will reform for the next assignment, so just make sure you have a group and do the best you can. Learning to work and communicate with others is a vital part of any profession, so you might as well learn how to handle it.

To find a group, go to the forum entitled "Form X-Game Groups Here!" on this web site,, and post or respond to a message to/from one of your fellow classmates to form a group. Once your group is formed, send me an e-mail with the names of the people in your group and I will send you to a separate web site with a forum for your group. In your group forum, your group can interact and exchange information. You will likely send e-mail messages back and forth to your group members, that's okay, but you will ultimately be leaving your assignment in your group forum, so make sure you understand how it works (you are always welcome to ask me if you don't understand).

Each member of your group will assume one (or more) of the following roles: 1) space scientist; 2) weatherperson; 3) surfer; 4) photographer; and 5) news reporter.

For groups of 3 or 4, roles may be combined. For example, someone could assume the role of surfer-reporter or surfer-photographer or space-scientist-weatherman. It's not so important how the roles are combined as long as all the work is shared equitably and completed. That's another way of saying that all the work needs to be done, no matter how many people are in your group.

Each group will assume the role of an independent working group under the employment of Surf-Nuts-R-Us, an international surfcast consulting firm, the best in the business.

Your Mission

The International Association of Surf Freaks (IASF) is offering a One (1) Million (M) Dollar ($) prize for the surfer who can ride the biggest waves anywhere on the globe during a one-week period in September. The IASF has hired your firm, Surf-Nuts-R-Us, to direct surfers to the best wave spots on the globe during the week of the contest.

How to Succeed

Use your knowledge of waves and the links below to discover the best surf spots on the globe during a one-week period. Once you have gathered your information, prepare a news report that includes the elements listed below. You will post your news report on a web page for all to view and read. Points will be awarded based on each group's completion of the required elements and the detail, creativity and enthusiasm with which you complete the project. All group members will receive the same number of points on this assignment (harsh, I know, but you will learn to work together; trust me, you will.)

Important Links

You are not limited to the following links, but they will get you started and provide enough information to complete the exercise. However, feel free to go above and beyond the call of duty to seek out other related web sites that help you complete your mission. The web links are divided according to each role, but all group members may find useful information on all these links.

Space Scientist

Your primary responsibility is to identify and track storms (storm fronts, hurricanes, typhoons, other wind-causing events) that occur in the world ocean and report them to the group. Of particular importance are:

You will report the above parameters for 3-5 storm events across the Earth within a one-week period. Work together with the weatherperson to make sure that the storm event can be tracked both by satellite and weather buoy. If no weather buoy information is available (such as locations in the Indian and Antarctic Oceans), follow a different storm event.

Start here,, at the Satellite Page for the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration web site. This page will give you links for basic information about using satellites to follow and predict weather around the globe. From here, you can link to this page,, which is where you'll find the satellite images on which to base your data (i.e. the parameters that you are reporting above). Be sure to browse the links on the left side of the page. They are very helpful to understanding weather events occurring on our globe. Most likely, you will use this site to estimate fetch and storm movements.

Another useful wind-data site is SeaWinds from NASA, and the Navy Fleet Numerical Meteorology and Oceanography Center, Most likely, you will base your estimates of wind speed and direction on information at these sites.

You will want to save an image and/or animation for presentation with the news report. Right-click on the image/animation to save it to your hard drive or floppy disk. You might want to write down where you saved it. At the end of the week, pick one or two images that really stand out.

Hint: Focus on those areas with the highest winds. View several images and animations to get a feeling for wind speed direction. Work closely with the weatherperson to verify surface wind speeds and directions based on weather buoy data. It may seem tough at first, but the more you look at these images and try to understand what they are telling you, the easier it will become. If you have any questions, don't hesitate to ask. Good luck!


Your primary responsibility is to report sea-surface conditions at "hot spots" where storm events are occurring. Use the information provided by the Space Scientist (or look for yourself) to locate regions of high winds and waves in the world ocean. Find one to several weather buoys within these hot spots and report the following sea-surface information to your group:

You will report the above parameters for 3-5 storm events across the Earth in a one-week period. Your information should correspond to information provided by the Space Scientist. In other words, once you or the Space Scientist has identified a storm system, check the weather buoy sites to see if sea-surface information is available. If no weather buoys can be found in that area, find another storm event (i.e. find a storm event that can be tracked by a satellite and weather buoy).

You will find most of your information at the National Data Buoy Center, Use this link to gain an overall understanding of weather buoys and how they operate. Then go to and find a weather buoy in the region where the Space Scientist has located a storm. Browse the links for the available buoys until you find one that indicates high winds, high swell and long wave periods. Save this information (File, Save As, Txt File) and use it to prepare a table of the above parameters to support the news report.

Check the same buoy the next day or within a couple days. Report changes in the above parameters as the storm has intensified or subsided. Find another buoy (if possible) at a location where the storm has presently moved. How do the parameters compare with the data a few days previous?

For sites near California or the West Coast (including Mexico) you will want to check the Coastal Data Information Program web site,, maintained by the Center for Coastal Studies at Scripps Institution of Oceanography.

Hint: Review the lecture notes entitled How to Read a Table. With that information, you should be able to easily identify the correct columns for the information you need. Bookmark your buoys and check them every day. This is not a difficult task if you take your time and read the tables carefully. Everything you need to report is spelled out for you in these tables. If you don't understand how to read them or if you are not sure you are finding the right information, be sure to contact me.


Thought you lucked out, huh? This has got to be the easiest job of them all, right? Sorry. Besides reviewing surf cams and downloading images of surfers shooting the curl, you will be reporting surf and weather information at the hottest beaches.

Using information provided to you by the Space Scientist, Weatherperson and Surfer (and by winging it on your own), find the beaches with the best surf and report the following:

You will report the above information for 7-10 (or more) beaches across the globe, the ones that have the best waves during a one-week period. If you find beaches with great waves, you might want to report them to the Space Scientist, Weatherperson and Surfer so they can check the meteorological and oceanographic conditions that produced those waves.

A great place to start looking for waves is the Surfline web site, Note that surf conditions are reported for a lot more beaches than surf cams are available. It's okay to report the above parameters at the location where the biggest and best waves can be found even if a surf cam isn't available but make sure you include a surf cam image and conditions for the next-nearest location.

You will prepare a short summary of the above parameters for each beach location you identify. In addition, you will use that information as a one-paragraph caption for the real-time surf cam images that you download.

Hint: Work together with the others in your group to find the best surf spots on any given day. Browse the surfline web site and other web sites for reports on where the best waves are. Your information should be easy to find if you read carefully. If you have any questions or if you aren't sure what you are doing, don't hesitate to contact me.


Sweet, dude, surfers just surf, right? Wrong. You as surfer are going to figure out where the best waves are/were supposed to occur. In other words, you are going to keep track of wave and surf forecasts across the world ocean. In that sense, you are going to act as the interpreter of information discovered by the Space Scientist, Weatherperson and Photographer. In particular, you will report the following:

You will download wave forecast maps (right click on image) at least three (3) times during a one-week period and describe what those maps predict. In other words, you will interpret the maps and give your group an idea of where the best waves are/were predicted to occur.

A good place to get started for general information on surf forecasts is the Surfline web site at Click on the regional forecasts and read through them to find out where the best surf is happening. Then go to the Coastal Data Information Program web site,, maintained by the Center for Coastal Studies at Scripps Institution of Oceanography, to view wave forecast maps for the west coast of the United States. Note that there are different types of forecasts: a 0-hour forecast (what is predicted to happen right now); a 12-hour forecast (what is predicted to happen 12 hours from now); a one-day forecast and so one. Choose the wave forecast that corresponds to the information provided to you by the Space Scientist, Weatherperson or Photographer. For example, if the Space Scientist reports a storm in the South Pacific, you will probably use a long-range forecast (on the order of days) to predict the impact of that storm. If the Weatherperson reports high waves at a weather buoy in Northern California, you may use the 12-hour forecast for locations near the buoy and the 1- or 2-day forecast for locations further away (like southern California) On the other hand, if the Photographer reports that the waves are breaking right now at Trestles, you will want to download the 0-hour forecast.

You will also want to check out the regional and global wave forecasts available at the Navy Fleet Numerical Meteorology and Oceanography Center, Use the links on the left column to find wave forecasts for different regions and the globe.

You will prepare a short paragraph describing each wave forecast map that you download. Be sure to tell us where the highest waves are predicted to occur and in what direction they are coming from. You will be submitting at least twelve (12) wave forecast maps.

Hint: The maps are easy to find if you use the links provided. Save the images onto your computer's hard drive (right click on image and Save Image As...). You can view them using a web browser or photo-editing software. You may even want to print them (if you have a color printer) to make them easier to interpret. I suggest that you save a few over a couple days, then sit down and start looking at them. Watch how the wave forecasts change from day to day at the same location. If you have any questions or your not sure what you are doing, don't hesitate to contact me.

News Reporter

Yeah, yeah, yeah, news reporters just make it all up, right? Hardly. A good news reporter reports the facts and comments on them. A good news reporter separates the facts from the fiction and gives the audience a clear sense of what is true and what is conjecture (educated guesses) The facts you are going to present here are the following:

In essence, your job is to prepare a two- (2-) page report describing and discussing the information obtained by your group. You will choose 1-2 satellite satellite images, 1-2 tables of data from weather buoys, 1-2 images from surf cams and 1-2 wave forecast maps to include in your report. Briefly describe the visual information/data and use it to make your point.

Hint: Truthfully, your job might be the most difficult because you are going to have to hound your group members to get their job done. It's most likely that you will become the group leader and moderator. Most of the writing will be straightforward because you will benefit from the short interpetive paragraphs that your group members write. You are welcome to use their paragraphs directly in your report if you wish. The hardest part for you to write will be the summary describing the strengths and weaknesses of surf forecasting. You will need to have a clear understanding of the forces that cause waves and the ways in which we measure those forces. As well, you'll have to have an understanding of how we measure and interpret waves themselves. Despite the hard work, this job can be the most fun because you get to put it all together. You will piece together the "big picture" and communicate it to the world. As a result, you will probably gain the deepest appreciation for and understanding of the natural forces that govern the ocean and our planet.

Format Rules for Everyone's Work

Every group member will prepare their textual information in a word processing program and save that information as a TEXT-ONLY file. If yo don't know how to save something as a TEXT-ONLY file, then ask one of your group members or contact me. Tables of data, descriptions of images and any other required comments will be typed as paragraphs and CLEARLY LABELLED. For images and maps, you will simply type the title and filename of the image as a separate line. I will prepare a sample page for you to view and post a link to it in the Daily Dope.

Each person's page of text AND their images will be uploaded to your group's web site. I will give instructions on uploading and downloading files to your group's web site (don't worry, it's quite simple) on the Cybernauts Mailing List (our subscribable mailing list). Each group member will have their own web page (i.e. the text file) and each group will have a number of images contributed by all group members. I will edit the News Reporter page from each group and LINK the image files to their images. The end result will be one web page with images that describes and illustrates the work of each group.

Grading Criteria

15 points: for completing all the assigned tasks, following the format rules and organizing your information in an easy-to-read manner
10 points: for incomplete tasks, incorrect format and somewhat sloppy presentation
5 points: for at least trying to put something together
0 points: for not completing the assignment at all

Final Comments

This assignment, known as a WebQuest, has been in development for a number of years. It combines individual assignments from previous semesters and expands on them in a group format. Most importantly, it fosters a real-life understanding of waves and oceanography. Your task is challenging, no doubt, and the assignment will ask you to think and cooperate in ways that are perhaps unfamiliar to you. The keyword for success on this assignment is TRY! Give it your best shot; there is no right or wrong on this assignment. A lack of effort on your part, including procrastination and waiting until the last day, will be clearly obvious. On the other hand, a keen effort and close communication with your colleagues and me will make this assignment one of the most enjoyable and awesome learning experiences you have ever had. Good luck!