Words Corinne Evans Photos Sharpy Surfer Lucy Campbell

Whether you are surfing at the moment or not, its always good to keep your knowledge of surfing fresh. If youre trying to get your head around what the difference is between surfing a beach break vs surfing a reef break, then we are here to explain it. 

Obviously, waves are waves, and the difference between reef and beach breaks is like night and day. Both have pros and cons both can be equally amazing and challenging. So heres our reef vs beach break run down.

Below: Lucy Campbell going down the line at a reef break in Indo. Photo Sharpy


Breaks in the same place.
The best thing about a reef breaks is that the wave breaks in a very similar spot and way ever time. Which means its easier to get in position to catch the wave. It also means it can be easier to avoid breaking waves.

Another impressive aspect of reef breaks are the channels.
A channel is a deep bit of water to the side of the reef break. The waves never or very rarely break in this channel of water. If you see a bigger set coming through and you dont think you can duck dive, head to the channel.

The waves break the same.
The main difference between reef and beach breaks is that waves tend to break very similarly on reef breaks, which means that you can know (to a certain extent) what the wave will do when you take off. Allowing you can practice specific turns and manoeuvres on the same section.

Nikki van Dijk pulls into a fast breaking barrel during the Corona Bali Pro. Photo WSL/Dunbar

Reef breaks get quickly crowded, and due to small take zones getting waves can be difficult. Which is why reef breaks are only suited the more competent of surfers.

Reef breaks mean just that. Waves break over a reef. The reefs can be live coral, rock, boulders and more. Reef breaks usually break in shallower water, meaning that there can be more chance of you hitting the reef. But dont worry, this isnt always the case. Surfing reef breaks are great for progression and wave knowledge. It might feel scary at first, but once you are used to it. The power and shape of the wave will keep you coming back for more.

Beach Breaks

Fun waves
The best part of beach breaks is you can have a different experience on almost every wave. Beach breaks are unpredictable. Sand moves, tides changes, waves alter, which means that even more than usual. Every wave is different. Beach breaks bring an element of fun. You can take off one wave and have a sloppy fun wave to make cutbacks on. Take off on another, and its a hollow barrel. You never know whats coming next.

Spreads out the crowd
As beach breaks can be so very random in how the waves break, which can thin out the crowds. So whereas at a reef break, everyone sits in one spot. At a beach break, you can sit further out, on the inside. You can sit on the bank up the beach, and so on. It means that you can up your wave count and get plenty of waves under your belt even on busy days.

Paddling out challenges
While there are no channels at beach breaks, rips are a vital factor in making the paddle out. You need to look at the lineup and spot the rips. A rip is where the water thats been pushed in by the waves heads back out to sea. Find these, and they are like conveyor belts to out the back. Making the paddle out easy. However, find your self on the wrong side of a rip or stuck in the middle of a heavy beach break and getting outback can be near impossible. Choose where to paddle out wisely; even the best surfers can be defeated by a beach break on a big day.

While nothing is 100% safe in surfing. Surfing over sand is about as safe as it gets. Its soft and doesnt hurt too much if you hit the bottom. Beach breaks also are great if you need to head back to land quickly. If its got too big or heavy and you want to call it a day. Just get a wave in and walk up the beach. No rocks to worry about, no coral to think off. Just lovely soft sand.

So both have pros and cons. Both can be amazing and challenging. Variety is the spice of life, so its always good to mix it up. If you are lucky enough to live near or able to travel to both reef and beach breaks, then do it. Give both a go and you may find what you have been fearful of is a lot of fun, or you may find that what you love is your home break, and all that talk of what you missed out on around corner wasnt all that good after all. 

Below: Alyce Barton ripping it up at a Cornish beach break. Photo Roxy