Where's the big surf?

A little background before my BIG surf question:

I’m currently reading the book, “The Perfect Storm” which goes into some great factual detail about the mechanics of weather systems, wave motion, etc.

There is a mention in the book that the largest wave that can be generated, theoretically, by high winds in open water would max at about 175 ft.

There is another mention in the book that the Queen Mary was once hit by a rogue wave out at sea which knocked out the ship’s pilot window 90 ft up.

I visited a surfing site which tells of the record waves ridden by riders in '98 off the Waimea bay in Hawaii. The waves were maxing at about 80 ft near the shore. These waves were generated by an approaching storm and were racing a full day ahead of the storm. At sea, these swells were forming at about 20 ft.

My questions are…
Why don’t the great lakes coastlines experience more severe wave heights considering lake storm swells can easily reach 20 - 30 ft in height? When I notice that the lake conditions are showing 6-8 ft waves, the shoreline usually just looks like a washing machine with lots of churning.

I realize that the slope of the lake bottom is fairly shallow, but I recall reading that lake michigan reaches a maximum depth of about 750 ft only 12 miles off the coast of Ludington, Mi. Shouldn’t a storm system from the west be generating some Huge waves on the Michigan shoreline there?

IMHO, the largest waves appear about 100 miles off the coast of LA, in the middle of
the sea, I think its called Cortes bank but Im not sure.

As for waves in those lakes I wondered too, but I noticed the storms that make them
usually appear in the winter when the lakes are ice?

I recall watching a special on Waimea bay…waves there are ALWAYS huge…due to the shaping of the floor of the sea. I beleive there is a shelf that rises abruptly into a reef, which then gradually rises to shore, which throws all the approaching water up into a huge wave, which then rolls in.

Depends on how you measure the wave and who’s measuring them. Some people consider the wave face the appropriate part to measure; other people think the back. Also depends if you’re interested in seismic or storm-generated waves, and whether they are potentially rideable.

Some claim that “Jaws” in northern Maui has the world’s largest waves, but the world surfing record was awarded two years ago to a dude who surfed an official 66-footer at the Cortes Bank off San Diego. Cortes is generally inaccessible for most surfers and generates these waves only a few days per year. I talked last year to some of the cats who were there for the record, and two of them told me that the waves were collapsing like bombs were going off. One world-famous long boarder told me he was too terrified to get close enough to surf one–he had never seen anything bigger than a 35-footer. (The surfers are towed by jet skiis into the path of the wave, released, and are left to either surf or die.)

Observers that day said that a few of the waves exceeded 75 feet, but that, once everyone realized how large they were, no one was lucky enough to be on that particular set to ride them. All concerned added that they’re sure that the perfect surfing conditions at Cortes are capable of generating 100-foot waves–and that someone should be able to surf it. (Cortes is also a boating graveyard. Fishing trawelers do not do well against 60-foot waves–and I’m not talking 60-foot swells, either.)

Cortes waves are not storm-generated. The big ones on the Great Lakes are–and they don’t even come close.

Yes, the Queen Mary was hit by a 95-footer (more or less). I remember the captain later saying it really didn’t pose a major risk to the ship, though it looked like a mountain and scared everyone to death.

P.S. As you can tell, I’m into big waves. My dream is to witness a major (minimum 150-foot) tsunami–from a mountaintop.

Guys on the big waves there at Cortes bank remind me of an ice cream waffle cone. The top
of the cone is really big, but where they would surf is near the small pointy tip, so it looks like
they are on a huge wave. but they are really on a smaller part of a huge wave.

With all due respect, Handy, I don’t think you know what you’re talking about. One need not surf on the foaming crest of a 66-footer to claim that one has ridden the wave. How many big-wave surfers do you know who surf in this zone anyway?

I will concede my lack of knowledge in pointy waffle ice cream cones. That said, the size of the big waves surfed at Cortes have been officially verified by a panel of impartial experts–and plenty of photographic evidence remains. The biggest wave surfed to date is officially 66 feet. A check for $66,000 was awarded to the “dude” who surfed it, courtesy of “Project Neptune,” IIRC.

To get a better idea, do a search on Google for “Cortes Bank.” These are monster waves.

Surfers distinguish between “wind swell” and “ground swell”. Basically, wind swell is the result of storms or wind events that are (relatively) close to shore. The energy in these waves is confined to a (relatively) shallow depth – so even though the swell height is similar, there is less energy in the wave.

Ground swell is the result of storms thousands of miles away - in California ground swell waves are generated in the gulf of Alaska in the north, or in the South Pacific, and travel, and continue to build, over many many days before reaching shore. By the time they arrive, their energy extends much deeper, and they stand up much highter. More from Surfline.

The Great Lakes, while large, never generate anything other than wind swell.

Just being a pedant here but the waves at Waimea are actually very rarely huge. However, in order for waves to break onto the shelf out at Waimea, the waves have to be very large indeed because they are breaking in very deep water. The swell rarely gets this large and when it does, it is usually in the winter months.

Most times of the year (especially summer), Waimea Bay looks just like any other bay in paradise. Calm, blue and beautiful.

Ah…that’s good to know then.
I should have known better than to trust TLC for info,lol.

They made it sound like Waimea was the end-all for big waves.

Thanks for the responses. In regard to the question about the great lakes waves, the book “Perfect Storm” says (I hadn’t read far enough when I posted originally):
wave height = speed + duration + fetch. According to the book, a force 12 wind over the great lakes would create waves of 35 ft AFTER travelling about 10 hours, but the lakes aren’t big enough to sustain that amount of wave travel duration, so waves there will never exceed that height.

Another factor with the Great Lakes is that there are no (significant) tides, which are one of the things which typically drive wave formation.

Okay, it took me thirty seconds to find these pictures, and a half an hour to post 'em here (and thank Jebus for EditPad Classic to recover the half-dozen devoured posts). If I double-post, it is in the interests of expediency. I have things to do, but you want to see these.



Can’t possibly be true.

Thanks everyone for hooking me up with the leads for that dazzling stuff.

May I ask for a clarification? There is a theoretical height-limit for storm/wind generated waves. Does this apply to seizmic disturbances as well? What about if one of Sorbust’s asteroids plunked down off the California coast? What about the Great Lakes?

Re: asteroid collisions, it is hypothesized that a “biggie” (not the technical term) could generate waves in excess of 1,000 meters.

Re: the “wind swell” v. “ground swell” terms, this is not as mutually exclusive as the poster presents. The largest waves are always generated by storms (exclusive of tsunami), which cause large surges to ripple cross the Pacific and eventually stack up once they hit shallow water. Re: the Cortes Bank, we’re talking about the Pacific going from several thousand feet in depth to less than ten feet (in some areas) in a matter of a few feet.

Re: seismic waves, I’ve read of some exceeding 100 meters, or 330 feet. During the explosion of Krakatoa in 1881 (?), dozens of villages were obliterated by towering black waves that exceeded
125 feet. BTW, there is a theoretical limit to everything.