The fascinating physics of surfing!

Norbert Ferenczi
20 of April 2023
The fascinating physics of surfing!

We all love to surf! But only a few of us are curious about the how. If you are a few of those people who are interested in the physics of surfing and want to know what kind of forces interact with us while we are in the water, this article is the right kick-off for you.

Whether or not you pay attention to it. While you surf, you are a master of fascinating physics. The science of surfing starts as soon as you and your board hit the water. 

The board’s size and light construction help it displace a lot of water. In turn, the buoyant force  which is an upward force created by the still water pushing up on your board.

The water exerts its force on every part of the board that it touches. You can enjoy more benefits of buoyant force with more volume. This is one of the reasons why beginners start with long and wide foam boards.  This lets you stay afloat while you wait to paddle for a wave. 

As the wave gets closer to you , you start to pivot your board in the same direction as it breaks and paddle to match its speed. We can tell by experience that the speed of the wave is going to be around six knots which is approximatly 11 km/h.

As you are paddling you generate kinetic energy . By Newton’s law of action and reaction (the third law of motion). The water also pushes on you to the opposite direction. Which is the nightmare of beginner surfers.

Most of them have trouble with the right timing of finishing paddling and dropping on an unbroken wave at the right momentum. 

The answer for that is gravity! We shall paddle along with the wave until the gravitational force is pulling us  and our board down. At the same time your increased forward momentum makes you more stable . Allowing you to pop up and travel with the wave. 

Now that your class is over do not hesitate to grab a board and enjoy the fascinating physics of surfing in our beloved ocean!