The Science of Sustainability

Science of Big Waves

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A monster lurks just off the coast of Northern California. Known as "Maverick's," this surf break north of Half Moon Bay generates some of the biggest waves in the world, and draws the big wave surfers that live for them. But what makes these waves so big? QUEST talks with scientists who are getting to the bottom of it and the big wave surfers willing to take their lives in their hands for the ultimate thrill ride.

You may watch the “Science of Big Waves” TV story online, and view geotagged photos from this story on the KQED QUEST – Science of Big Waves photo set.

Sudden Oak Death and Science of Big Waves (episode #108), airs tonight on QUEST at 7:30pm on KQED 9, and KQED HD, Comcast 709. (full schedule)

Chris Bauer is a Segment Producer for television on QUEST, and is the producer for this story.

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Category: Climate, Physics, Television

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About the Author ()

Chris Bauer is a Freelance Media Producer with over 20 years experience working in broadcast television; producing sports, history, technology, science, environment and adventure related programming. He is a two-time winner of the international Society of Environmental Journalists Award for Outstanding Television Story and has received multiple Northern California Emmy Awards. Some of his Quest stories have been featured in the San Francisco Ocean Film Festival, Jackson Hole Wildlife Film Festival, United Nations Association Film Festival, the BLUE Ocean Film Festival and the Environmental Film Festival in Washington DC. A 5th generation Bay Area resident and a graduate of St. Mary's College of California, his hobbies include canoeing, snowboarding, wood-working and trying to play the ukulele. He and his family live in Alameda, CA.
  • taylor

    F-A-N-T-A-S-T-I-C segment! You brought the scientific fascination to the fore. Great work!

  • Henry Kaiser

    The best tech surfing story in a long line of fine surfing stories by the man in the hat. Cool, effective graphics, great interviews, and some killer footage. Some of the metaphors were a bit over the top, but the waves that inspired them are – indeed – mythic, and I enjoyed the ride.

    Congrats Chris; I bet that was fun.

    ps -I still haven't heard about an airdate for that show you dad was in.

  • bob squihowski

    maverick is a big A** wave. and ive never bein surfing.. BUT IM GOUNNA GO ON THE MAVERICKS SSOOONN. =) *smiles brighter & gets killed by a humongo wave*


  • Edwin

    Hey, nice feature! BUT your animation of a breaking wave was just a bit over simplified. As the wave energy approaches the coast the energy in the column of water is a stack of rotating cells one on top of another, you got that part right, however each cell rotates in the opposite direction from each other as you go down the column, not all the same direction as you illustrated. Think of the cells as a stack of wheels one on top of another. If you were to turn the top wheel clockwise the next one down would be turned counter-clockwise, the next down clockwise and so on. It may seem like a small detail but it is very vital to the structure of a breaking wave and wave sets.

  • Stef

    This is a great teaching tool for 8th grade Texas students. I use this episode to introduce my wave unit and build interest. Thanks for creating such a high quality resource for science education.

  • Jessica – a QUEST staffer

    Stef – So glad you find the story useful for your students! We also have an educator guide for the story on our Education tab – check it out if you haven't already.

  • Chris Bauer

    The 2010 Mavericks competition is set to go off this Saturday, February 13th. Here's to Grant Washburn and all the surfers braving those monster waves. Good Luck!

  • Chris Bauer

    For big wave surfers, the grand-daddy surf contest at Mavericks has taken a very interesting turn. In a small surfer revolt, Half Moon Bay Surf Group, led in part by Grant Washburn, who appears in our QUEST “Science of Big Waves” story, will be taking the contest forward. To learn more see: