Without waves, the concept of being a surfer would be totally meaningless. But ocean waves were not created for out benefit alone, nor are they some redundant appendage of nature serving no apparent purpose in the grand scheme of things. Just like everything in nature, waves evolved to have a purpose and to function alongside all the other working parts of the planet.
For example, ocean swells transfer enormous amounts of energy from one side of the globe to the other, which helps to maintain the natural heat balance of the planet. Waves also control the mixing of the water in the top part of the ocean. The mixed layer transfers huge quantities of heat energy between the ocean and atmosphere, helping to control the temperature of coastal zones. When waves break they transfer energy to the coastal material, which drives the coastal morphodynamics: a highly ‘intelligent’ and poorly-understood system. Interfere with the waves and you will change the coastal morphodynamics in unpredictable ways. Waves are also important for the biology of the ocean, Near the coast the waves stir up nutrients essential for life-forms such as barnacles or kelp. Interfere with the waves and those life-forms wont grow properly, which will affect many other life-forms in the coastal ecosystem.
In summary, ocean waves are part of the delicate balance of nature and there is a limit to the amount we can interfere with them before the natural system they are a part of start to bite back at us.
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About the speaker
Tony Butt holds a PhD in Physical Oceanography, worked part time with the Coastal Processes Research Group at the University of Plymouth for about ten years, and published 12 papers in peer-reviewed journals. He had an oceanography column in The Surfers Path for 17 years.
He now makes a meagre living writing and teaching people about waves and the coastal environment. He is the author of Surf Science: an Introduction to Waves for Surfing (2004, 2014), and The Surfers Guide to Waves, Coasts and Climates (2009), in addition to numerous chapters, forewords and contributions to other books, and hundreds of magazine articles.
He also works with NGOs trying to convince people that the coastline is one of the most delicate and poorly-understood parts of Nature, and that the more we interfere with it the more problems it will cause us. He is a Trustee at Surfers Against Sewage, on the Advisory Board at Save the Waves, and on the Vision Council for World Surfing Reserves.
Tony has been surfing for as long as he can remember. He lives most of the year in a forgotten corner of Northwest Spain, where he has pioneered a few big-wave spots over the last ten years or so. He makes one long-haul flight a year to spend the southern winter in Cape Town, South Africa, to surf Dungeons and Sunset Reef. He has been invited to several big-wave events, has appeared in several television documentaries on big-wave surfing, and is an ambassador for Patagonia.