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Forecasting Philosophy



What sort of information we provide in our forecasts

Surprising for a bunch of supposedly “slacker surfers” but we actually put a lot of thought into what sort of information we provide in our forecasts…in fact we even have a forecasting philosophy that we try to stick to.

I know what you are saying…”It is just surf and ocean conditions, how can Solspot’s forecast team have a philosophy?”

Well it actually focus a lot on how we communicate with you, the surfer, and how as forecasters it is our responsibility to try and walk the line between giving you data and forecast info that are so general and sterilized that they won’t really help you find quality surf and makes our forecasting look inaccurate…or going too far to the other side and giving out so much information that it crowds specific lineups and ruins the surfing experience for everyone.

The main goal of our forecasting is two-fold…the first part is to reward the veteran wave rider who has put in the time and effort to gain the experience/local knowledge of his (or her) favorite breaks. These are the surfers that know what swell directions and swell-periods to look out for. They know where to go when the winds shift a certain direction. They are plugged into Mother Ocean and know her rhythms and patterns. They should be able to read our forecasts and know where they are heading for the surf session in the morning, or maybe two weeks down the line.

At the same time we don’t want to ignore the rest of the surf world, the people who sneak out during lunch to surf, or maybe just get a session in on the weekend between the kids soccer and little league games. We by no means think any less of a surfer who has to be a parent, or an employee, or is just learning to ride waves. So while we give information that is incredibly useful to the hardcore guys, we also try to include some nuggets and hints for the surfers that might not have the experience or the time to track swells. We aren’t going to give anyone a map and say “surf right here” but we will give out enough information that if a person is willing to do a little research or hunt a little further around a corner looking for a better wave, they have a good chance of finding one.

So keep that in mind when you read our forecasts, yes there will be the info that helps the veteran surfer, but at the same time there should be plenty of great forecast information for the casual user as well. Besides the idea behind playing in the ocean is to have fun…and if you aren’t finding the right waves, then we aren’t doing a good enough job. – Adam

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Definition of Wave Heights

OK there are two types of wave heights that you are going to run across on our site, one set, that we refer to as “deep-water wave heights” is empirical…measured by instruments, buoys, satellites floating in space…basically these heights are pretty well locked down in terms of size, so 5-feet of deep-water wave heights means the same thing all over the world’s oceans.

Where we get into trouble is when those “deep-water waves” turn into “breaking waves” the kind that we surf. Ahhhh breaking wave heights…the one thing that surfers absolutely can never agree on.

Seriously we’ve done tests, sat in butt numbing meetings, talked, shouted, conferenced, voted, and even arm-wrestled over how to call wave sizes…but at the end of the day the truth is that you can take ten people to the beach, stand them next to each other, watch a wave come through and when you ask them how big it was you get 10 different answers.

Really the problem isn’t that any of the answers are wrong, it is just how you personally relate to the surf…and since we can’t create a perfect system for each individual, we decided that “consistency” is the best course…so while you may not 100% agree with our wave heights, and how they relate to your body size, you can count on our forecasters to at least keep our calls consistent…so if we say it is going to be 5-foot, then you know what it be like for you at the beach.

Here is how we break it down. If you need a forecast for waves going over 40′+ contact us (so we can check your sanity)

  • 0′ Flat
  • 1′ Flat to Ankle High
  • 2′ Knee High
  • 3′ Waist High
  • 4′ Chest High
  • 5′ Head High
  • 6′ Overhead
  • 7′ Couple of feet overhead
  • 8-9′ Several feet overhead
  • 10-11′ Double Overhead
  • 12-13′ Double Overhead Plus
  • 14-16′ Triple Overhead
  • 17-19′ Triple Overhead Plus
  • 20-21′ 4-times Overhead
  • 22-23′ 4-times Overhead Plus
  • 24-26′ 5-times Overhead
  • 27-28′ 5-times Overhead Plus
  • 29-31′ 6-times Overhead
  • 32-33′ 6-times Overhead Plus
  • 34-36′ 7-times Overhead
  • 37-39′ 7-times Overhead Plus
  • 40′ 8-times Overhead
  • 40′+ Time to clean out your wetsuit

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Human vs Automated Forecasts

As you move through the site you will note that there are some slight differences (and a few glaring ones) as you move from “human” generated forecast content to our automated forecast engine. The whole team here at Solspot (headed up by Jens) have put together an incredible automated forecast system that allows us to use our extensive local knowledge, and real-life forecasting experience, to take a deepwater water wave model (like wavewatchIII) and produce an accurate “spot specific” forecast that takes into account all the dynamic factors that can affect wave size and conditions.

The biggest noticeable difference between a human generated forecast and an automated forecast is what we call our “surfyness” or “rideability” description of the surf, which takes into account all of the components of our surf, things like; swell intensity, swell period, wind, tidal changes, along with a host of slightly more intangible concepts that can make or break a surf session. Currently only the Human written forecasts have the “surfyness” factor…the computer that generates the automated forecasts can give you a ton of information but it just can’t quite make the intuitive leap that we feel is needed to predict how “fun” the surf will be.

Right now this is how you can tell if you are looking at an automatic forecast or a human one.

This is an automated forecast, noted the date…it just says Sun, June 17 -…and there isn’t a surfyness rating.

Now here is a human generated forecast…you can see that next to the date is our surfyness factor (selected by the forecaster based on certain criteria that they feel is relevant), and the more detailed summary that gives you a little more insight into how the surf and the conditions will behave for that day.

Yes it would be easy if we let the computer do all the work, but we truly feel that no matter how awesome our system is…there should still be Humans at the helm, which is why we staff professional Meteorologists and Oceanographers that have a passion for weather forecasting, surfing, and snowboarding. The forecast team makes a point of using the Solspot forecasting toolset, tracking its performance and comparing it to different data sources that haven’t (yet) been incorporated into our automated tools, all the while trying to improve the automated product.

Currently we have human forecasters covering Southern California, Central California, Mexico, and Central America and to be honest we never really see the human factor being phased out, in fact as we become more established globally there will likely be more forecasters added into the mix…the automated system, while very good, is limited in some respects (mainly those intangibles that we were talking about before). An example is that the forecast engine is able to produce a highly detailed forecast for a number of specific locations in a region but isn’t able to see the big picture, where a human’s insight, experience, and ability to connect the individual spots to a larger pattern lets them anticipate changes that may occur.

Really when you get to the core of Human vs. Computer Forecast Model is that the computer doesn’t surf, (surf in the ocean that is…we know we tried…it surfs the internet just fine) and so it doesn’t care whether you get waves or not. It crunches numbers, and if it gets bad data in, it will produce an incorrect forecast…and then 6 hours later when it reprocesses good data it produces a more accurate update. The problem arises in that you may only look at the forecast once a day…and base all of your surf decisions on a glitchy update that will be completely different 6 hours later as the good information is pushed into the system.

This is another area where a human forecaster plays a big role, they may look at pretty much the same data and hold back, knowing that something isn’t quite right with that last computer model run, and will wait to see how this hiccup of bad data resolves itself before making the final assessment. Sometimes knowing when “not” to pass on information is just as important as what is actually presented.

Finally, and probably one of the most important points of the Human vs. Computer debate, is that a human forecaster can relate to what sort of real-life hurdles an average surfer has to go over to actually get to the beach, because we endure them just like you. So when you read a human forecast here on Solspot.com, you can count on the forecaster to actually consider these factors and do our best to keep you from wasting time and money.

We are definitely excited about how this latest upgrade of Solspot.com integrates more automated features into our Human forecasts in ways that enhance the quality of both and we hope to continue this trend in the future.

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