Business and Culture of Surfing: A Wave-Catching Equation

posted by / News / November 8, 2010

Catch or catch not? Sometimes there is no question. Photo: Jeff Flindt

Catch or catch not? Sometimes there is no question. Photo: Jeff Flindt



Business and Culture of Surfing is a collection of insights, ideas and trends from Stuart Cornuelle.

Behold unbridled genius. To get more and better waves while surfing, pretend you’re in a contest and deploy the following system:

Set S=T (where S is size of the waves in feet and T is time remaining, in minutes, of an imaginary heat)

Set T = ½H (where H is the combined two-wave score you need to win the imaginary heat)


Consider: some surfers “dine” — they sit and wait for sets — while others “graze,” scratching for every bump and constantly moving. Too much dining is a bore; sitting still, getting cold, growing pudgy. But too much grazing is to slum, to scavenge, to fill up on lavosh before the veal is served. Neither approach is optimal. My system bridges the gap between them to maximize quantity AND quality. I show:

If it’s one foot, pretend you have only a minute to score a 2.0 — i.e. catch whatever breaks, because it’s only a foot. Otherwise, what is it you think you’re waiting for?

If it’s five feet, you have five minutes to score 10.0, meaning you need a 7 and a 3, or a 6 and a 4, or a 9 and a 1. You don’t paddle for just anything, but don’t pin your hopes to a 10, either. You’re busy yet selective.

If it’s 10 feet, you have 10 minutes to score 20 — a perfect heat. This makes sense as well: You don’t hunt scraps at 10 feet unless you’re shooting fisheye closeouts at Off the Wall or other lunacy. At that size you’re after quality — but you only have 10 minutes, so bet on seven- and eight-point waves and hope something remarkable happens.


Of course, in crowded or localized lineups, this system breaks down and could probably get you punched square in the tooth. But there it is. Coaches and team managers charge for this stuff, while here I am laying down knowledge and truth, gratis.

Boy, Mondays are slooooow in here.—Stuart Cornuelle


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  • JP


  • Loligagger

    What does “BACOS” mean?

  • Seves of the Sea

    The Drifter wasn’t fucking stupid. It was at least as rad as In God’s Hands.

  • Darren

    Thanks for a great short on wave catching formulas. Having never surfed competitively and naturally being an “easy-going” guy, I just recently started using a similar approach to wave catching. I’m always mindful of the break, the locals, and the pack I’m in, but I am catching more waves than ever by setting a goal for the next 30 minutes. Usually its simple wave count, but sometimes I up the ante and make it scoring a set wave, a noseride, or a really long ride. As a 40-something “old-timer” I’m still getting over on the youngsters by taking some goals into the water with me!

  • Alex K.

    No- In God’s Hands had surfing in it. And Dorian. And surfing. So the Drifter was not at least as rad.