The physics of surfing – Nick Pizzo

The physics of surfing – Nick Pizzo

Whether or not you realize it, as a surfer you’re a master
of complicated physics. The science of surfing begins as soon as you and your board
first hit the water. The board’s size and light construction
help it displace a lot of water. In turn, a buoyant force equal to the weight of the
displaced water pushes up, counteracting you and your board’s weight. This lets you stay afloat while
you wait to paddle for a wave. And what exactly are you waiting for? The perfect wave, of course. Like other waves in physics, ocean waves
represent a transfer of energy. Wind blowing across the ocean accelerates
water particles near the surface, leading to the growth of ripples
that become waves. These deviations from the flat surface
are acted upon by gravity, which tries to restore the surface
to its original flat state. As the waves then move through the water, particles push and pull on their neighbors
through the wave induced pressure, and this motion propagates energy through
the water in unison with the wave motion. The motion of these particles is much more limited than the
overall motion of the waves. Near the shore, the shallower seafloor constrains
the motion of the waves to occur in a more limited region
than out at sea, concentrating the wave energy
near the surface. If the topography of the shoreline
is even and smooth, this will refract the waves
to become more parallel to the shore as they approach. This is the crucial moment. As the wave gets near, you quickly pivot your board
in the same direction as the wave and paddle to match its speed. Your board forms an angle with the water, and this creates a dynamic pressure
on the bottom of it, forcing you and your board
out of the water, to skim along the surface. At the same time, your increased forward momentum
makes you more stable, allowing you to stand up
and surf along the wave. Now you’ve caught the wave, and are riding along its front
face parallel to the shoreline. Fins on the surfboard allow you to alter
your speed and direction by repositioning your weight. Above you is the wave’s crest, where the water particles are undergoing
their greatest acceleration. That forces them to move faster
than the underlying wave, so they shoot ahead before falling under
gravity’s influence. This forms the waves’ characteristic
curls, or jets, as they break along the shore. Sometimes, the curl might completely
enclose part of the wave, forming a moving tube of water
known as the barrel. Because of irregularities in the seafloor
and the swell itself, few barrels last as long as the legendary
27-second ride off the coast of Namibia. But many who manage to get barreled have said they feel time
passing differently inside, making it one of the most magical
experiences a surfer can have. Of course, not all beaches are created equal. Offshore underwater canyons or rock
formations in certain locations like Nazare, Portugal
or Mavericks, California refract the incoming wave energy
into a single spot, creating massive waves
sought by surfers worldwide. And some of these waves travel
for more than a week, with swells originating more than 10,000
kilometers away from shore. Waves surfed in sunny California may have originated in the stormy
seas near New Zealand. So while you may not be thinking about
weather patterns in the South Pacific, tectonic geology, or fluid mechanics, the art of catching the perfect wave
relies on all these things and more. And the waves we surf, created by wind, are just one visible part of the
continuous oscillation of energy that has shaped our universe
since its very beginning.

Antonio Breitenberg

Related Posts

100 thoughts on “The physics of surfing – Nick Pizzo

  1. Val Ivan says:

    Tfw you plobably will never surf, cause you're an inland dweller and also too broke to travel to the sea or ocean 🙁

  2. Bon Rea says:

    I guess you could say…

    You are surfing on science 🏄🏽‍♀️🧬

  3. Bob Beadle says:

    This once over lightly you call "physics"? Since the first, widely used oceanography text I consulted about waves at UCLA in 1960 that told me, trust me, that "waves FEEL the bottom" as they break- I've discounted much of what physical oceanography has to tell us. For example, mind stating that as a wave doubles in HEIGHT, how much does its VOLUME change. I'm no physicist nor wish to be, but my from the hip guess is that a wave's volume increases approximately 2X the increase in wave height. I fully admit I am probably wrong. The thing is, what IS the answer? Of course you don't have a clue. Please take the pedantry elsewhere, you're totally out of touch with the ACTUAL physics of breaking waves.

  4. Abbieq11 says:

    The video I always needed for my life

  5. ShpookyBear369 says:

    I'm scared of the ocean.

  6. Mira 88951 says:

    every TED-Ed video: good music, good diction and speaking, easy to understand concepts and education, amazing animation = i really want to learn surfing, good thing that i live in CA

  7. Naomi ! says:

    I never wanted to surf so badly 🙁

  8. Ikinararangal ko ako'y Iglesia ni Cristo says:

    So the earth is flat?

  9. Kenneth Drake says:

    “Surf’s up, Dude!”

  10. Erick peanut says:

    Love the animation really made it simple to understand

  11. Kinio Rabbit says:

    Fav fav fav fav.

  12. joao bello says:

    Nazaré, Portugal 😆✌️💪

  13. Just another God says:

    Oh they make it look so easy…

  14. jujucatjuca says:

    fantastic animation!

  15. Jimi Moso says:

    Nice explanation 🌊🌊🌊🌊🌊

  16. Harrison Gerdes says:

    I thought the moon also played a part in making waves

  17. Harrison Gerdes says:

    I love these videos .

  18. kirby march barcena says:

    "Surfers are masters of complicated physics" and they don't even realize it.

  19. Paco Piedad says:

    This was such a fun video!

  20. Tain Jamir says:

    Hi dude can you plz make a video about why till now we haven't sent a drone to mars for survey. I mean drones can cover large distances quickly and one doesn't have to worry about collision as there are no buildings in mars

  21. Cynthia E says:


  22. Taylor Hinckley says:

    Physics of snowboarding next?🏂

  23. heri styono says:


  24. Did you just assume my gender says:

    Johnny Tsunami Man

  25. Michael Leveille says:

    Anyone else notice her polka dots were moving?

  26. Exxelenen Setijadi says:

    What does the fin under the board affect while on the water ?

  27. Zawadi Bunzigiye says:

    So cool!

  28. Anton Wylaars says:

    Top big wave surfers are absolutely aware of the weather in the south Pacific. Or the weather in any of the oceans for that matter. They're constantly looking at the weather and ocean currents and fly around the world to where they predict the best waves to be

  29. BlueFox94 says:

    T U B U L A R

  30. Rav3r916 says:

    This was so rad


    Guess what

    Tomorrow is my science exam 😜

  32. Leto85 says:

    Knowing all this I now feel even more proud of my shiny surfing Pikachu. 🙂

  33. Rebecca Hughes says:

    What a beautifully made video!

  34. Grant Lester Norbe says:

    The Legendary voice 💚

  35. Leroy Liu says:

    Too bad I’m not a surfer

  36. FB I says:

    I feel intelligent just reading the name

  37. zeref 2112 says:

    Can you makea video about Thomas Young

  38. Mohammed Ghaïth says:

    This is mesmerising to watch! 😍

  39. Harvey Sun says:

    The new ted-Ed’s are mostly narrated by Addison Anderson.

  40. Gayane Gabrielyan says:


  41. Akuma says:

    Ted-Ed I don’t care if this has anything to do with myths and legends I want a video on Atalanta or Achilles.

  42. GameSquid says:

    I hate this artstyle, lol

  43. Michel Gäbe says:

    I feel like the animators were like: hey science colleagues, can we make a video on surving and science stuff?😂😂

  44. Quahntasy - Animating Universe says:

    The physics of suffering.

    That's what I read.

  45. Wilford Pongyan says:

    I thought this was the physics of suffering.

    Oh well.

  46. 🌍 Mister No says:

    Too bad that politicaly correct design of characters has nothing to do with reality. Never seen people with huge asses like that surfing. I guess this one goes into sci-fi category.

  47. Charnock Games says:

    Poor Crab 3:21 🙁

  48. Midnight Sky says:

    As much as I loved the video, I couldn’t understand at word. Be back in 10 years time then!

  49. Sour ManJoe says:

    Well done Ted Ed! Great video and animations but I found it distracting when trying to take in information over the slightly too loud music. Thank you for teaching us something new and interesting everyday

  50. Patrick Hultquist says:

    I really like physics. Dr. Hawker is a cool teacher. F=ma, d=1/2at^2 with a = 9.8 m/s^2 and when an object is starting at rest. Here is the force: F=ma, so F=m*9.8. F is in N and m is in kg.

  51. a-wanderingcloud 0-0 says:

    👍🏻🌬🌊 🏄‍♀️ 🏄‍♂️

  52. GeminWanzo says:

    sorry but this art styles was a little too weird for me

  53. Jessica Jayes says:

    Here's a tip, the biggest waves are on Hawaii's northern shores during the winter months. That's because Alaska storms blow all the way south to Hawaii, and with no land to block it, the waves are epic.

  54. Bigattck Firecat says:

    3:36 When a ted-ed video shows up

  55. Christian Williams says:

    The physics of pole vaulting would be awesome

  56. Chris Holscher says:

    Greatest unsolvable question… how do surfers afford to surf all their life around the world?! I’m lucky enough to surf once a decade!

  57. JohnnyBadboy says:

    Why make this in a cold March……………

    I wish I was at the beach now!

  58. TiagoTiago says:

    The drawing style reminds me a lot of the painting Abaporu by Tarsila do Amaral

  59. Paul A says:

    It's crazy cause I just saw the wildly acclaimed Guinness surfing ad (well, allegedly anyway. I personally thought the ad was meh at best, but whatever) and was wondering how surfing works when Phill recommended this video.

  60. Fernando Lemus says:

    Ted ed music?

  61. t s ó l a r i a says:

    Oh… Beautiful

  62. Heron Alexandria says:

    Most surfers are Male. Because this is TED though, they need to take every opportunity to virtue signal. This is why greatness eludes you.

  63. Jeremy Ashley says:

    This addresses short boarding. What about long boarding?

  64. The Download Hub says:

    But I didn't understand how we're not slipping off the board as the board is moving with the current,
    Now I know,
    the center of gravity and all that! right?

  65. samsamsam says:


  66. Fernando Romera says:

    So beautiful

  67. Santi Delina says:

    love the animation ❤

  68. i.m. Me says:

    Guys I figured it out. TED stands Technology, Entertainment, and Design. I guess you learn something new everyday sometimes

  69. Yves Belliveau says:

    Thought this would teach me the physics of the actual act of surfing, not physics of things related to surfing 🙁

  70. adwait bapat says:

    wow now i see ted ed liking comments

  71. Agent Ham says:

    2:51 With the best barrels you can pull in and just get spit right out of em. And you just drop in and you smack the lip! Woh pah!! You drop down and sbaaaaah! And then after that, you just drop in and just ride the barrel and get pitted… so pitted…

  72. Shravi Poo says:

    Omg surfer dudes are actually super smart they can do math without even knowing it😱

  73. Dhonath Maxsuel Alves da Silva says:

    Falta só a tradução para português! 😉

  74. the doydoy lord says:

    Really solid educational video one again, can't get enough of these well prodused videos 😀

  75. MorkSD says:

    awesome animations!

  76. Lily Sign says:

    they don't now anatomy though, lol that head is almost as small as my future

  77. Beau Dobson says:

    I love it!

  78. Purple Xans says:

    So that why the water behavior on the movie Interstellar acted so strange.

  79. James At says:

    I thought crest was usually with egg.

  80. This Is Mii says:

    Beaches all around here but where I live there is still snow …

  81. Peter Okorn says:

    Great animation!

  82. BEST GAME says:

  83. McKenzie Cooley says:

    1:24 kitty!

  84. Prasenjit Biswas says:

    worst possible illustrations

  85. FlippaHT says:

    I don’t like school but I like this

    Some subs would be

  86. fulcrum 29 says:

    That's one thicc surfer

  87. fulcrum 29 says:

    F to pay respects to the crab

  88. Evtim Bitrakov says:


    cool vid though

  89. Evtim Bitrakov says:


    cool vid though

  90. Ryan Ross says:

    This animator should work on more videos the have amazing skill

  91. Anfernee Tolentino says:

    Cowabungga 🤙🤙🤙🤙

  92. TheMarvikas says:

    Hello can anybody tell me how those kinds of videos are created? which programs are used? thanks!

  93. Baldoxxx4000 says:

    id like to learn how to surf, but those sharped teeth fish will ruin your life

  94. M Harvey says:


  95. Crypto Piper says:

    you may want to check this guy out for perfect waves:

  96. David Gough says:

    The steepening wave face forms a hill of water. You slide down the hill like a skier or sledder slides down a mountain. Except this hill continuously catches up with you so your slide continues until the hill collapses.Simple. The fact that you descend while the hill continues to lift you creates that uncanny sense of weightlessness that makes the magic.

  97. Lily Ramlochan says:

    at first i thought she was a he

  98. Alox says:

    It reminds me of Oswald

  99. Sanjeev Suhas says:

    Ted-ed really awesome

  100. Oi Oi says:

    Thats why i live surfing I have tried to that to my friends but they still think you are just standing on a stick on the water

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *