Can You Surf a Tsunami Wave?

Brow Beat
Slate's Culture Blog
March 11 2011 6:38 PM

Can You Surf a Tsunami Wave?

As Japan reels from Friday's devastating earthquake andtsunami, other coastal areas in the Pacific—including Hawaii and the westerncontinental U.S.—are experiencing serious waves of their own. This got uswondering: Could thrill-seeking surfers actually ride those massive waves?

/blogs/browbeat/2011/03/11/can_you_surf_a_tsunami/jcr:content/body/slate_image

The answer, at least anywhere near the quake, is essentiallyno. Theoretically, you could survivean unexpected tsunami wave if you were really lucky. Experienced surfers,however, strongly discourage seeking one out. For one thing, tsunami waves, especiallythe initial ones (they come in groups), are far more turbulent and dangerousthan other big waves, such as those produced by a storm. In order for a wave tobe good for surfing, it must have a "face" (a flat surface that the board can"grip") that eventually curls over and breaks on the shore. A tsunami wave,however, has no face. Instead, it is usually a rushing wall of whitewater thatnever breaks. Furthermore, tsunami waves can travel much faster than otherwaves (around 100mph at shore, in excess of 500mph at the epicenter) and pullup a great deal of debris from the ocean bottom, which can make surfing resemblea deadly game of Frogger.

Advertisement

Farther from the epicenter, surfing conditions may still bealtered—and not necessarily for the better. Veteran surfer Jim Evans, who livesin Malibu, CA, said that the few Californians who went out today were disappointed.While some people expect that a distant tsunami will produce good surf, inEvans' experience it actually makes for "swirly" water and unpredictable wavesthat break too closely together. Moreover, he says, tsunamis tend to produce astrong rip-tide effect that creates periods of low water levels and dangerouscurrents—not a good scene for surfers.

Even if a tsunami forces them out of the water, however,surfers can use their unique talents to help with disaster relief.  Surfers actually make great emergency aidworkers in these situations, having acquired considerable experience and knowledgeabout the geography of shorelines around the world. Following the 2010Indonesia tsunami, for example, surf charter companies and other surfer groups weresome of the first helpers on the scene , assisting locals and providingguidance to more traditional aid organizations.

TODAY IN SLATE

Culturebox

The End of Pregnancy

And the inevitable rise of the artificial womb.

Doctor Tests Positive for Ebola in New York City

How a Company You’ve Never Heard of Took Control of the Entire Porn Industry

The Hot New Strategy for Desperate Democrats

Blame China for everything.

The Questions That Michael Brown’s Autopsies Can’t Answer

Foreigners

Kiev Used to Be an Easygoing Place

Now it’s descending into madness.

Technology

Don’t Just Sit There

How to be more productive during your commute.

There Has Never Been a Comic Book Character Like John Constantine

Which Came First, the Word Chicken or the Word Egg?

  News & Politics
The Slate Quiz
Oct. 24 2014 12:10 AM Play the Slate News Quiz With Jeopardy! superchampion Ken Jennings.
  Business
Moneybox
Oct. 23 2014 5:53 PM Amazon Investors Suddenly Bearish on Losing Money
  Life
Outward
Oct. 23 2014 5:08 PM Why Is an Obscure 1968 Documentary in the Opening Credits of Transparent?
  Double X
The XX Factor
Oct. 23 2014 11:33 AM Watch Little Princesses Curse for the Feminist Cause
  Slate Plus
Working
Oct. 23 2014 11:28 AM Slate’s Working Podcast: Episode 2 Transcript Read what David Plotz asked Dr. Meri Kolbrener about her workday.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Oct. 23 2014 6:55 PM A Goodfellas Actor Sued The Simpsons for Stealing His Likeness. Does He Have a Case?
  Technology
Technology
Oct. 23 2014 11:47 PM Don’t Just Sit There How to be more productive during your commute.
  Health & Science
Science
Oct. 23 2014 5:42 PM Seriously, Evolution: WTF? Why I love the most awkward, absurd, hacked-together species.
  Sports
Sports Nut
Oct. 20 2014 5:09 PM Keepaway, on Three. Ready—Break! On his record-breaking touchdown pass, Peyton Manning couldn’t even leave the celebration to chance.