Her heart skipped a beat as a small blue dot swung into view. Thalassa. She had traveled 70 trillion miles to surf its oceans. Giant, slow-moving monsters are what Milo had promised, the largest rideable waves in the stellar neighborhood due to the low gravity of the Mars-sized ocean planet.

Sage, in Songs of Thalassa

Colossus. If you’re a surfer the name will terrify you. Although it is a fictional surf break on a fictional planet in my book Songs of Thalassa, I designed it to be the giant of all monster breaks. The largest wave in the galaxy. Cortes Bank and Nazaré all in one. In my book, media-star Milo invites the pro surfer Sage and her trainer Dina to set a new giant wave record; one that will never be broken — ever. So he searches for an ocean world and discovers Thalassa and they travel 12 light-years to ride Colussus. Is a 200-foot wave possible? Yes, but not on Earth.

So, here are four reasons why Colossus would create the largest waves in the galaxy.

Global storms, a string of islands like Indonesia or Hawaii, a giant offshore shoal like Cortes Bank, all surrounded by deep water. Add the effects of reduced gravity, which make the waves bigger and slower, and you have the perfect surfing planet…

Dina, Songs of Thalassa

1. Big oceans = Big waves: Thalassa is a water world, 99% ocean

She’s an ocean world, 99 percent water to be exact. There’s a single continent, about the size of California, broken up into hundreds of islands, cays, and islets, and there are two small polar ice caps.

Milo, Songs of Thalassa
The water world of Thalassa.

Wave size is determined by Fetch, the distance over which the wind blows to create waves. On Earth, the Pacific is the largest ocean and thus has the largest fetches and generates the biggest waves. The North Pacific, which is known for the largest wave, is about 8,000 wide. The ocean on Thalassa is 8,200 miles of uninterrupted ocean with a small continent the size of California.

2. Take away the pull: Waves on low-gravity worlds are large and slow

“... the gravity on Thalassa is only 30 percent of Earth’s, so with my new motoboards and the slower waves, I’ll be invincible.

Milo, Songs of Thalassa
Size comparison: Earth, Mars,Thalassa

Colossus is based on the science from Mars’ oceans, the only extraterrestrial ocean that has been studied. For this reason, and because small ocean planets will create the perfect rideable waves, I made Thalassa close to the size of Mars (it’s 21% smaller).

Scientific research has shown that Mars had an ocean 3-4 billion years ago (see NASA, 2015). According to Banfield (see Choir, 2015) the waves on Mars were large and moved significantly slower compared to Earth. Because a 100-foot wave on our planet may simply be too fast and too big to ride, slow-moving waves give surfers an edge on giant waves.

Low-gravity planets like Thalassa have the potential to generate monster-size waves that might double or triple up as they encounter a shallow reef (see Surfing on Mars). Additional factors, such as the effects of tides (Thalassa has two moons), depth of the ocean basins, bathymetry, and the shape of the shoreline is likely to also be equally important.

3. The “Bulge:” an offshore shoal that captures massive swells

The geomorphology of the Bulge makes it a high-probability target for waves, potentially large waves, as it’s an offshore shoal in deep water. But the shoal is fairly deep, so it only breaks on big swells.”

Georgia, Physical Oceanographer in Songs of Thalassa

Models for the Bulge: an offshore shoal (Cortes Bank) with massive submarine canyons (Nazaré)

The “Bulge” is the fictional shoal on Thalassa which includes Colossus reef. Small planets like Mars and Thalassa, with <10% the mass of Earth, cool rapidly and create large, stationary volcanos like the 70,000 feet giant shield volcano on Mars, Olympus Mons.

In the book, once the Bulge was formed it was eroded by wind and rain for millions of years which formed deep canyons on its sides. Later, rising sea levels created underwater (submarine) canyons. Thus, the Bulge creates the perfect conditions for giant waves: a large offshore shoal on an ocean planet with loads of deep submarine canyons.

4. The ultimate Nazaré: Two submarine canyons focus waves and create a triple wave

One of the swells began slowly building in front of her as it merged with wave energy bouncing out of the canyons. Awed by the raw power of the mammoth peak, she felt like the entire ocean was amassing before her. It was as if every wave she had ever surfed was gathering into one, all of her life now piling up in front of her to test her courage.

Sage, Songs of Thalassa

When the team arrived on Thalassa in Songs of Thalassa (set in 2090) they discovered the geological processes of volcanism and erosion had created the perfect surfing spot: two submarine canyons in proximity to a thumb-shaped reef. Milo named it Colossus.

Colussus is based on Nazaré Portugal, one of the top big wave surf spots in the world, Colossus is a rocky reef surrounded by two submarine canyons. The waves move fast in deep water until the hit the offshore shoal and encounter the submarine canyons (see below). Then, the canyon walls focus the energy of incoming swells onto a sharp, jagged reef to create the largest waves in the galaxy. This tripling of swell energy (incoming + 2 canyons) results in waves over 150 feet.

The Thumb-shaped Colossus Reef on the Bulge with two submarine canyons.
Canyons focus incoming swells on the reef which triple up.

Truth: Reality Earth

We’re not riding 200-foot waves, that’s impossible. It’s simply too dangerous, and we can’t move fast enough.

Dina, Songs of Thalassa

So there you have it. Four reasons why Colussus reef can create the biggest waves in the galaxy. To experience the waves, read Songs of Thalassa; only $0.99 on Amazon.

But can a surfer ride a 200-foot wave? The truth is, the current world record is 80 feet, so even riding a 100-foot wave on Earth may simply be too fast and too big for someone to ride. Of course, surfers have been down that road before: that’s what they said about Waimea Bay for years before Greg Noll pioneered it in 1957. The truth is there is no limit to the courage of surfers, whether they can survive a wave that size or not. On Earth, we will see. On Thalassa, we know the outcome.

Further reading

Big Wave Surfing:

Science of Surfing on Mars:

  • Banfield, D., M. Donelan and L. Cavleri. 2015. Winds, waves and shorelines from ancient martian seas. Icarus: 368-383.
  • Choi, C. Q. 2015. Ancient Mars May Have Had Slow-moving Monster Waves. Space.com Retrieved Dec. 9, 2015.
  • Iijima, Y., K. Goto, K. Minoura, G. Komatsu and F. Imamura. 2014. Hydrodynamics of impact-induced tsunami over the Martian Ocean. Planetary and Space Science 95: 33-3
  • Nasa, 2015. NASA Research Suggests Mars Once Had More Water Than Earth’s Arctic Ocean. Nasa.gov

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