The perfect wave: Raglan’s riches

They come from miles around for this – to stand on a piece of foam and fibreglass and slide over moving water. Gliding on the ocean at that narrow point where it comes crashing into the land.

They come to surf the smooth, peeling ‘left-hand’ that is the point break at Raglan.


Photo of Manu Bay, Raglan from here.

Even to a noob such as myself, it is obvious that these waves are good. They break by peeling slowly from the left to the right, with a clean, smooth surface to ride, coming in clean “lines”, without being muddled up by any small messy chop. It really is a beauty to behold.

If Raglan were designed, then the architect would have been a genius. “Good” waves are sorted from the chop, they break gradually along their length rather than all at once, and there is an outgoing current to carry you to where you need to be. And, just to be sure, there are seven spots to surf, all at slightly different angles, so it’s always firing somewhere…a surfer’s dream.

All design credits for Raglan go to Mother Nature herself.

Raglan’s best-known surf spots are point breaks, meaning the waves come around a headland, towards the beach before they break.  The headland sorts the best waves out, and changes their form, which just so happens to make them perfect for surfing on.

Going back to high school physics class (yes, I can finally apply this to the real world!), waves change when they go from deep water to shallow, as you can see from my artistic masterpiece below:


They slow down because of friction with the sea floor, but the water in them still has to go somewhere, so the waves get taller and squish together. 


When a wave is coming towards a headland, the bit closest to land is the first to hit shallow water, so it will slow down first, making it bend (this is refraction). 


Headlands work sort of like a quality controller, weeding out bad waves, but allowing the good ones through.

Bigger waves can “feel” the bottom further out (deeper) than small waves, so they bend further out from the headland. The small waves don’t bend in time, so they crash into the headland.

The further apart waves are, the deeper they can “feel” the bottom, and so spaced-out waves make it around, while squished-up ones don’t bend in time. 


So we’ve sorted out the man-waves from the boy-waves. But how do they break so nicely?

When a wave gets into shallow water, it feels the ocean bottom, which causes friction, and slows the bottom part of the wave down. The top of the wave keeps moving fast, and eventually this speed difference causes the wave to tip forward, and it breaks. 


Because the bit of the wave closest to the headland is in the shallowest water, it will be the first part to break, and as it moves towards the beach and the water gets shallower, it “peels” along its  length. 


The left-hand point break at Indicators, Raglan. Photo from here.

I really wish I was a good enough surfer to appreciate it!


Illustrations: Lydia McLean, 2013. 

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