Spot vs. Break

Does Your Wave Even Qualify As A Real Surf Spot?

Spot or Break? At this point does it matter? Photo: Bryce Lowe-White
| posted on April 01, 2013

There are two surf “zones” in this world: “surf spots,”and the lesser categorized “breaks.” A surf spot comes with cultural trappings—history and legend—which transcend national borders and linguistic barriers. It is also, 99.9 percent of the time, a really good wave. A break is a beach or a reef or a physical outcropping of geography, man-made or not, where waves break and surfers ride, but without any cultural significance, without any distinguishing facet or global renown. A break is simply a place where swell meets shoreline and waves topple over. A surf spot, however, is a much grander entity.

Surf spots are easy to rattle off: Bells, Waimea, Sebastian. However, like the U.S. Supreme Court’s wrangle with pornography, a break is harder to define—you just know it when you see it. Or when you hear their names. Oahu’s Monster Mush for example, or Middles(between Lowers and Church), or Indicator (a sign of better things to come).

It’s quite possible that your local spot, that place you’ve been checking since you were a grom, is not a legitimate surf spot at all, but rather, just a break.

How do you know? Well, for starters, if people plan surf trips to ride waves at your spot, then your spot is a surf spot. Otherwise it’s just a break. Surfers go to Hawaii, for example, to surf Sunset Beach or Velzyland. Surfers do not plan trips there to score “epic” Freddyland. Now, I’ve caught some pretty fun waves at Freddyland, but it is not a legitimate surf spot. It is a last resort—a place you’ve been relegated, either directly or indirectly, by large Polynesian men (or, as is more often the case, not so large men who wish they were Polynesian).

A couple of other filters for you to digest: Did Buzzy Trent dive for lobster where you ride waves?
If yes, it’s a surf spot—globally agreed upon and culturally accepted legend, history and/or lore that propagated from where you catch waves makes your spot a spot, regardless of wave quality.

Does your local surf zone have the word “little” in front of it? Not a spot. Groms have named non-performing, eel-grass peaks from Point Loma to Santa Cruz with monikers such as “Little Teahupoo” or “Little Velzyland.” Um…no. Sorry. Any break with “little” in front of it suggests less than–therefore, not a spot.

And by the way, just because your break has a parking lot does not make it a surf spot. There are plenty of crappy waves in front of parking lots. North Carlsbad State Beach, for example: great parking lot, large restroom, information kiosk…not a surf spot. Same with surf cams. Virginia Beach has a surf cam, but it is not a spot. No sir, Virginia Beach is a large liquor store with a zip code.

So, is your spot a spot? Or is it just a break? And another question: If you’re surfing a spot that’s not a spot, can you even call yourself a surfer? Chances are you don’t need my criteria to tell you–you probably already know.

  • surfer

    ouch i love freddies lol.

  • kent

    Great another thing to be elitist about.

  • nick

    This is Surfermag, not your blog. “If people plan surf trips to ride waves at your spot, then your spot is a surf spot.” How am I not going to talk trash on this statement? I should get a job at Surfermag if all it takes is some horrible opinion. Did this come from your ass?

  • ain’tnobodygottimefordis

    Surf spot: any SPOT where people SURF. (I don’t even think people say “surf break” anymore).

    I know this article was a bit tongue-in-cheek, but it no work because NO FUNNY.

    Seriously, guys. If you’re gonna write silly opinion pieces, please attempt to be entertaining.

    It’s the least you can do.


    People Who Waste Their Time Clicking on this Sh-t.

  • Jimmy the Saint

    I don’t get this. I enjoy your radio show though, so keep that up, but back to this spot verus break thing you are talking about. spot or break, never realised there was a distingion before, and if 99.9% of surf spots are really good waves, then what about the other 0.1% – lets call them substandard for arguements sake. I know some waves that would qualify as a break in your scale (moody, inconsistant, not known outside of a dozen or so surfers) that are, or have been on their day worldclass. But I guess riding a deserted fickle beauty is somehow less grand than riding a busy substandard surf spot . I am one of those guys ( i think I am probably in the majority here, I think you stated something similar in your radio show too) that would rather have lesser quality waves if it meant avoiding a hectic crowd. Give me a surf break any day of the week, even if she is in one of her bad moods… even if Buzzy Trent didn’t catch any lobsters….

  • peterpander

    this article almost bored me to death.. as interesting as watching paint dry

  • Beno

    Surf spots have cultural significance, surf breaks do not. WTF?

    This article is rambling semantically questionable waste of cloud space. From where did all this meaning get attributed? How are these thresholds defined? Lobster diving is supposed to lend some sort of credibility to surf culture? Who the hell is Scott Bass, some self-appointed arbiter of what’s what is “globally agreed” surfing, to tell the world the boundaries of surf culture? The gall this sort of self-assured magazine editor smugness this inspires. I’d like to read an article about how garbage like this is bad for surfing. I could rant for days.

  • Antonio

    Spot or Break, Ill be happy as ever to surf my local “break”…. Honest words from a mediterranean surfer.

  • TC

    You get paid to write?

  • TC

    Seriously? Someone wrote you a check for this drivel?

  • chris

    LITTLE Dume is a SPOT

  • Dave

    That is right, surfing only counts if it is in one of the handful of places that you think are worthy. There are a lot of young kids in Virginia Beach who would love to be able to paddle out at one of your approved “surf spots” but this is not a reality for everyone. Calling the city that hosts one of the largest East Coast surfing contests (and has for almost 50 years) a “large liquor store” might be an attempt at humor, but Surfer magazine is better than this.

  • ben


  • Skeets

    “Surf is where you find it” – Gerry Lopez

  • Dav

    Next time you’re out at Freddies I’m not gonna worry about cutting you off, you can only get cut off at a ‘spot’ not a break.

  • Jeffrey

    A surfspot is anywhere you can ride a fucking piece of foam over water

  • NFS

    Is this article for real? Did you make this stuff up…..holy sh*t I feel like I lowered my IQ by reading this…. I guess that is why this is in the “opinion” section, but still….come on.

  • thelonelysurfer

    wow this article is such elitist bullshit. Who gives a shit if its a break or a spot, if there are waves surf it. Go write about a real topic Scott Bass and get off your high horse, prick.

  • CJ

    c’mon surfer..first the surfer’s rule book, now you aren’t a surfer if you don’t have the means to travel the world to surf whenever you want. if i paddle out and have fun in the ocean…guess what, i’m a surfer. If i cry about not being spoiled with chopes or north shore swells…then by my criteria you probably aren’t a surfer.

  • dora

    And there are ‘real” surfers and sell-outs. Surfers simply surf, sell-outs work for surfing magazines.

  • anon

    hard to believe this is a serious article. “if you’re surfing a spot thats not a spot, can you even call yourself a surfer?” this article represents the opposite of the culture and mentality that makes surfing so attractive. also, what the hell does the vernacular even matter? you’re saying blacks isn’t a legitimate destination for surfers because it’s just ‘a place where swell meets shoreline and waves topple over’?

  • guywhosurfsalot

    What about secret SPOTS? People sure as hell don’t travel to these places and they aren’t known about

  • http://www.princeoftheplantation.blogspot.com Steven Kane

    I don’t care what people (surfers) refer to their favorite surfing place as – spot, break, whatever – as long as they respect the ocean, the shore, the locals, the sport and themselves. Also, as long as they enjoy the sport. I was born and reared on the North Shore of O’ahu and I saw too many people disrespecting the ocean, the shore and carried themselves with no self-respect…therefore, they did not receive respect from the locals. So, call your favorite surf place what you want, surf spot, surf break, point break, surf zone, just respect and enjoy!

  • John B

    Awesome, Mr. bass. While morons (sorry for the vitriol, but you deserve it on this one… LOL) like you travel to your distinguished surf “spots”, crowd said lineups with more egotism and travel with a penchant for perturbance, I’ll gladly take the road less travelled and find world-class epic waves at those oft referred to (at least according to your article) surf “breaks”. You know, I actually thought it might be prudent to point out several inconsistencies with your semantically erred “spot” versus “break” philosophy; however, the most glaring example would be in places like Indonesia, or the wilds of Namibia (which are now thronged with Safas and Euros) offering not only a world class “break”, but the true experience that every surfer should achieve at least once in their life. Please, keep visiting your surf “spots”. This way, the high quality waves will remain less crowded for surfers looking for the true surf experience. Oh yeah, you didn’t even mention the whole concept of discovering a new “break” in your article and how that experience factors in to the “spot” versus “break” argument. You know, I think the surf world, and culture, would be better off without your limited contributions. Thank you and have a great day. =-)

  • Paul van Jaarsveld

    Check the date…

  • VK

    I don’t really think that he is saying that if you surf on a break you’re not a surfer. In fact I think he is saying that maybe we are lucky we can surf less known waves but still good (or maybe even epic) and not have to worry about crowds or people coming to surf our “break” all the time. I read this article as if it was ironical, but if you really are saying that if you don’t surf “spots” you are not a surfer you can go F*CK yourself, in fact there’s a a video and an issue from this year that shows an epic “break” finding in the Caribbean…


    I agree with John B on the “discovering a new break” thing, nothing can be more epic than that.

  • Scott

    Sir, you wasted my time with this drivel.

  • Daniel Iglesias Vieira Junior

    when I was in Huntington Beach was dazzled by the vastness that is the Pacific ocean … You are priveligiados by nature, it is no coincidence that has the St. Andreas Fault …

  • http://curled.com.au Josh

    Such arbitrary nonsense.

  • Fred Hasson

    It’s an April Fool’s joke, geniuses.

  • Bob

    I’m a little late to the party but I’ll play along…. I live in VA and have been to VB many many times. Sorry VB isn’t as “gnar” as your “spots” but we surf what we can and we’re happy to do so. The ECSC is a great time and anyone who doesn’t have a good time probably has other personal issues going on. There’s plenty of other folks in this world who don’t get to surf or even see the water unless they’re on vacation. This is the issue with surfing these days… A bunch of pretentious assholes who think they’re too cool for school. No one cares what the place you like to surf at is called. What matters is having fun and growing with and within the sport. “It’s only wrong when it stops being fun.”
    I do see this was posted on April fools day but there’s no where in the article that says it’s a joke and it’s not funny. I hope Bass was just joking because if not this is piss poor “journalism” and a very pathetic attempt at an opinion piece. Respect yourself, respect each other, respect the ocean!