Seasoned surfers probably don't need scientists to tell them how to catch a wave, but that doesn't mean the physics of the ocean can't still contribute to their enlightenment. In that spirit, physicists studying how air and water interact, and how a wave's energy is transferred to particles touching its surface (such as those in a solid surfboard), have officially identified the surfing "sweet spot," or where surfers need to hit to get the fastest speeds and the best ride, according to a press release.
"Based upon the speed and geometry of the wave, you can determine the conditions to surf a wave and also where on the wave the maximum acceleration, or 'sweet spot', will be located," said avid surfer and lead researcher Nick Pizzo.
Where's the sweet spot? It's right in the curl of a breaking wave. And for maximum forward motion, the surfboard should be traveling along at the same speed as the wave itself.
The goal of the study isn't really to improve surfing, but to use surfing as a guide to better understand the energy interchange that happens between atmosphere and ocean. The oceans cover a vast amount of our planet's surface, and all of those crashing waves can have a profound effect on the climate. For instance, as waves break they create currents, and water droplets in the form of sea spray get thrown up into the atmosphere.
It all adds up, kind of like how the so-called "butterfly effect" can be theoretically used to model larger weather events. In this case, instead of the beating wings of butterflies, it's the crashing of waves on the ocean.
“We need to understand the little things to get the big picture,” said Pizzo.
He added: “The study was motivated by important scientific questions that lead to a better description of the upper ocean to be used in weather and climate models. By studying the acceleration of a theoretical surfer on a wave, we can provide a better description of the currents generated by breaking waves, leading to an improved understanding of the momentum and energy budget between the atmosphere and ocean.”
The following short video helps to portray the concepts at play in this study: