How to find the best surf: MSW Surf Forecast

Many on the East Coast are seeking higher ground, but to some Hurricane Irene means big waves. MSW Surf Forecast from Magicseaweed, a free mobile app, delivers the latest surf reports to your phone, letting you know when conditions are just right--or insanely dangerous.

This MSW chart shows that Irene is big and mean. Matt Elliott/CNET

Most people, when they see a hurricane coming, hunker down or move out of its path. Surfers, on the other hand, aren't like most people. To them, a hurricane is to be tracked for the swells it brings. And with an iPhone or Android phone, a surfer can keep tabs on local conditions, ready to grab his or her board and hit the water when the waves are just right.

Before we proceed any further, allow me a disclaimer, lest I be dubbed a poser by surfers reading this post. I am not a surfer. I live in New Hampshire--not exactly the world's hottest surf spot. There is, however, a small surf scene here. I live an hour from the NH seacoast and have a few friends who regularly make the trek to Hampton or Jenness to go surfing. I've tagged along with them a handful of times, and with their encouragement and large, foam board, I have successfully ridden embarrassingly small waves.

Still with me? Good. The app my friends turn to for surf reports is MSW Surf Forecast from Magicseaweed. I use the app, too--to make sure the waves aren't too big for my meager abilities.

The home page of MSW shows conditions for your favorite surf spots. Just swipe to view your other favorites. Matt Elliott/CNET

MSW Surf Forecast is a free app for both the iPhone and Android phones, and it was just updated last month to version 3.0. The app uses your location to provide current surf conditions, and with information on over 2,500 beaches across the globe, odds are your surf spot is covered.

When you launch the app, you'll see links for Buoys, Live Winds, and Charts, giving you an idea of the surface currents and wind conditions. Above these menu items is a button labeled Add Spot. Tap on it and you'll be able to drill down to your location and add your favorite surf spots. After adding your favorite spots, an snapshot of their conditions will appear on the home page of the app (you can swipe sideways to flip through multiple locations). The snapshot shows wind direction and strength and wave height for the day in three-hour increments.

Think I'll stay home on Sunday. Matt Elliott/CNET

For more detailed information and the long-range forecast, tap on the the snapshot. Here, you'll find a seven-day forecast, various charts with a slider that lets you see how conditions such as the swell and wind will change over the next several days, and tide reports for the next seven days. The information my surfing friends say is critical is wave height, period (the time between waves), and wind direction (you want it blowing offshore).

The report for Sunday for Jenness Beach, my local spot, calls for 10-foot swells and 26 mph wind. It's safe to say I'll be staying inside that day, safely tracking Hurricane Irene from the comfort of my couch--as long as the power doesn't go out.