If you ask East Coast surfers, they might debate the point, but nature makes a strong case for terrific West Coast waves. First, the prevailing winds in the West that move across the water come from behind the waves. On the East Coast, the prevailing winds blow against incoming waves and reduce their energy. Energy is important to create the breaking waves surfers love. For example, blowing a fan across the top of water in a sink creates a ripple effect. The same idea applies to ocean water. Bigger storms also tend to mean bigger waves. That means that phenomena such as El Nino and other causes of increased storm and wind activity over the Pacific Ocean can create more breaking waves for enthusiastic surfers.
A few other factors make for some great West Coast surfing conditions. The continental shelf is where the beach drops off underwater, giving way to deep ocean. On the West Coast, it's a steep drop, but on the East Coast the shelf is wider and acts like a ramp. The water slows down when it hits the shelf on the East Coast and a wave collapses in on itself. On the West Coast, the wave hits the shelf harder and is therefore larger. And because the Pacific Ocean has a larger surface area than the Atlantic, there's more room for the wind to build waves before they hit the West Coast shoreline.
Sometimes, however, waves on either coast can be very large and meant for only the most experienced surfers. In December 2009, a huge storm over the North Pacific caused a swell in Oahu, Hawaii, that created a series of waves as high nearly 50 feet (15 meters) high. The swell brought in teams of surfers who used jet skis to get to the waves that were too large to paddle over [source: Daily Mail].
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