How are giant waves measured, and why has it become a point of contention | Sports

How are giant waves measured, and why has it become a point of contention | Sports
How are giant waves measured, and why has it become a point of contention | Sports

How the measurement of giant waves is done and why it became a controversy?

If the world record, set in the Guinness Book, for the biggest wave ever surfed in history is 24.38 meters, who managed to surf a wave of 29.68 meters is the record holder, right?  The controversy that has dominated the surfing world in recent days is far from having a single answer.  There are differences even between those who measure the waves, the oceanographers.

In Nazaré (Portugal), it is not possible to place traditional instruments for measuring waves in the surf zone — a buoy, for example.  The wave is so big that it will crash.  Then, the measurement uses digital images of the wave, on video.

According to Pedro Guimarães, a professor at the engineering school at FURG (Federal University of Rio Grande) and a specialist in image processing in several areas of oceanography application, this opens up a margin of error in meters for measuring waves such as those in Nazaré.

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Several factors interfere in the final result, which can vary greatly:

  • The quality of the pixel size (the smallest dot that makes up a digital image)
  • The angle of the cameras
  • The effect of lens distortion
  • The uncertainties in the measurement of the crest and base of the wave

"If we add up all these errors, it will give you an order of magnitude of variation between 5 and 10 meters, depending on how the photo was taken. If it was taken at an angle, it may have a bigger error. If it was taken at another angle, it may have a smaller error", he explained.

In 2017, Rodrigo Koxa surfed the record-breaking wave of 24.38 m.  In January of this year, Lucas Chumbo from Rio de Janeiro surfed a 29.67 m, according to the measurement system established by TV Globo.  Then, in February, Vinicius dos Santos, from Santa Catarina, tamed one evaluated at 29.68 meters, in a measurement made by the same system and by the same oceanographer, the renowned Douglas Nemes, a specialist in wave mechanics.

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"If you consider the Koxa wave, which was 24.38 meters, it could be a wave that actually was 29 or 19 meters. So, in general, it is assumed that the wave was 24 meters, but there is no way say with precision", he says.

There are ways for errors to be corrected, but still there is no 100% reliable data.

"It doesn't matter how good the scientist who is applying the method is. There are a number of people who try to make these corrections, but they are not 100% effective and cannot eliminate the error, leaving only a few centimeters", explains Guimarães.

An attempt was also made to measure a wave of about 20 meters in northwest France using another super-expensive instrument, anchored to the seabed, but it was destroyed.

Douglas Nemes, oceanographer responsible for measuring the waves of the Gigantes de Nazaré program, says that the margin of error in his measurements is minimal.  He believes that Koxa's record is not broken for reasons other than measurement.

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"I've measured several waves larger than 24 meters," he explains.  "Why isn't this official in Guinness? In my opinion, the process is long. It's not just surfing, presenting the calculation with experts and that's it. You have to prove the meteorological event capable of generating these waves, positioning this cyclone, having instruments on the coast recording the height of these waves, proving that these waves arrived, and, of course, proving that the surfer surfed from the photos and calculations. It's a process that involves a team, so the athletes don't have that advice."

According to him, the technique he developed is similar to the one used by the University of California, of which the WSL is adept.  "We've already compared our methods, so there's no reason why they shouldn't make it official," he says.

In the face of divergences, what counts to determine the record is the final word of the entity responsible for surfing, the WSL (World Surfing League) - which, in turn, will only evaluate the wave if the line made by the surfer and the way that the wave broke are ideal.

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The waves of Lucas Chumbo and Vinicius dos Santos will certainly be entered for the Big Wave Awards 2022, the big wave Oscar that takes place at the end of the year.  From there, an international panel of judges determines the winning waves of the award, and only then will they be 'reviewed by a scientific team as a critical point of reference for the determination of World Records', as the entity informed the report by e-mail. mail.

"The WSL verifies world records each year, based on Big Wave Awards winners, and is the official Guinness World Record verifier for the biggest waves surfed categories," he explained.

Source: Kunal Thakur, Direct News 99