Environment & Science

U.S. Open of Surfing: The science behind Huntington Beach's stellar waves

Kelly Slater of the US competes in the final of the US Open of Surfing in Huntington Beach on August 7, 2011 in southern California where the ten-time world surfing champion defeated Australia's Yadin Nicol for the title. AFP PHOTO/Frederic J.BROWN (Photo credit should read FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP/Getty Images)
Kelly Slater of the US competes in the final of the US Open of Surfing in Huntington Beach on August 7, 2011 in southern California where the ten-time world surfing champion defeated Australia's Yadin Nicol for the title. AFP PHOTO/Frederic J.BROWN (Photo credit should read FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP/Getty Images)
FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP/Getty Images

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Happy 20th birthday U.S. Open of Surfing.

The weeklong event dates back to 1994, but pro-surfers have been competing at Huntington Beach since the 1950s. In fact, the town's official nick name is "Surf City, USA".

But what makes this strip of shore so special?

First of all, its at mid-latitude on the West Coast, says Falk Feddersen with the Scripps Institution of Oceanography.

Typically, storms in this region travel from west to east, creating large waves and sending them into the shores of California.

But, Feddersen says there another factor helping Huntington Beach specifically.

"The coastline is very exposed to the south," he said.

This is key, he explained, because during our summer months, large storms are raging in the Southern Hemisphere near Antarctica.

“Those storms make big waves and typically they get radiated out... and because the coast line at Huntington Beach is facing south, they get direct exposure.”

He adds that many nearby beaches face west so they only catch part of these powerful swells.