Do Surf Breaks Change Over Time?

While surf breaks are generally classified as being anywhere that an obstruction in the seafloor causes a long enough wave to break where surfers are able to catch and ride, there is much more important information regarding different types of breaks and why the waves break the way that they do. For more information, check out the “What are Breaks” blog here.

Changes in Beach Breaks

Beach surf breaks are notorious for changing. A surfers favorite surf break one year could be completely gone the next. The constant movement of sand throughout the ocean is responsible for this phenomenon. Different ocean processes such as longshore drift, tropical storms, and hurricanes collect and deposit sand into different areas which can both build and destroy sandbars that create beach breaks. Human activities such as dredging can also alter surf breaks as they too collect sand and deposit it in different places. 

Changes in Reef Breaks

Reef breaks are far less susceptible to change than beach breaks as the bathymetry remains constant because the rocky reef bottom tends to stay the same over time. With a far more sturdy substrate lining the seafloor, reef breaks are rarely affected by large storms and current. Sometimes sand may pile over a reef causing some changes to the break but this is rarely permanent as it is often washed away by larger swells. It is rumored that large natural disasters such as earthquakes and tsunamis have permanently altered reef breaks in the past by breaking up the reefs into different sections. It is also unknown how climate change and ocean acidification will affect reef breaks in the future as they are known to have negative effects on coral health. 

Local Breaks

All of the local breaks here in the oldest city of Saint Augustine are beach breaks that consist of waves breaking over shallow sandbars. While the movement of the tides are responsible for temporary changes in the waves every few hours, the largest contributors to permanent break changes in the local area are dredging, hurricanes, and current.


Located in the northern portion of Anastasia state park, Blowhole is often fantasized about for its once perfect sandbar serving up flawless waves on any tide and swell. Unfortunately this gem of a wave is no longer in commission as a beach renourishment project dredged sand from the area and took it elsewhere, destroying the surf paradise. The wave that was once the center of Saint Augustine’s surf scene is now barely recognizable.

St. Augustine Pier

The different surf breaks out and around the St. Augustine Pier are always changing. These variations in these spots are mostly a result of the changing tides each day as the outside sandbars break better on the lower tides while the inside breaks throw up better waves when the tide is higher. Permanent changes to these sandbars are usually as a result of large storms and swell events where sand becomes deposited on either side of the pier forming longer and more defined sandbars. 


Vilano beach, home to the punchy barrelling surf right off shore, has changed drastically over the years. While the waves still break in a similar manner, beach erosion from large storms has moved the waves closer and closer to shore each year. Vilano has also been impacted by dredging and local beach renourishment projects.