Surf the Bahamas

The practice of riding ocean waves while standing or kneeling on a board began with the ancient Polynesian culture. Mark Twain witnessed the aboriginal peoples of Hawaii surfing in 1866, but perhaps the first instance of Europeans seeing the sport was in Tahiti in 1767. There are several variations now, of course. Some surfers use longboards, some use tinyboards, others like paddleboarding and the purists like to stick to body surfing, where there is no board at all.

Surfers like big swells, the size of which is determined by two elements. When wind blows along an open surface of water, building up a swell, it is called the wind’s fetch. When the strength of the wind and fetch are both strong, a large swell is created. Therefore, powerful oceanic winds coming off the Pacific and Atlantic provide excellent conditions for surfing. Of course the surface beneath the sea also plays a large part in the size and shape of swells. Sandy seabeds can change on a weekly basis, and this is where advanced technology makes surf forecasting possible. Satellite imagery and mathematical graphing help researchers map the size and direction of swells for surfers, boaters, and other water sport enthusiasts.

The Bahamas are situated in the Atlantic Ocean just southeast of the Florida panhandle and directly north of Cuba. The 29 islands, 661 cays and 2387 islets that make up the Bahamas, plus its location directly on the Atlantic Ocean make it a haven for surfers. The long expanse of water allows the opportunity for a large fetch, and the rocky topography means frequent waves and large swells. In addition, east coast regions are notorious for receiving heavy winter swells. Low pressure cells from out at sea and are kept immobile by slow moving high – also called the anticyclone. The fetch becomes short, but since the anticyclone has been generating slow power, the swell becomes larger.

The topography immediately beneath the breaking wave is the most important aspects of its shape. Natural and artificial reefs can mean the difference between a flat, irregular surf venue and a reliable favourite. Unfortunately the consistency of the seabed can also mean the difference between a minor or major injury if thrown off a board. When a surfer falls while riding a wave, the force of the water will toss them downwards. If the seabed is rocky, the injury can be quite serious and even fatal. Low tide produces an even greater risk.

The Bahamas offers a tropical climate, long beaches, epic swells, friendly people and beautiful scenery. For experienced surfers, the islands are a great place to practice a favourite hobby. For the newbie surfer, it may be a good idea to stay close to the shore and avoid those 2387 rocky islets.

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