What constitutes "lumpy" water?

Lumpy water is a term used here at times, as well as “textured” water.

Is there a precise definition? I would think that textured water could be any water that’s not flat. But lumpy is vague. How big must the lumps (waves) be to meet that definition?

Thanks for filling my curiosity meter.

Lumpy water is what I think of
as clapotis… Waves coming in from different directions or tidal currents doing so and forming rogue waves that are much higher than others.

Or reflecting waves such as found on cliffed shores. waves hit the wall and reflect back travelling the other direction or a combination of directions. With waves still coming in… its the culmination of confused seas.

Rocks and ocean floor terrain irregularities play a big part too.


– Last Updated: Aug-24-16 10:35 PM EST –

"Lumpy", "sporty", "nautical"... these are euphemisms for mixed swell with a very short period, or really "enthusiastic" wind chop bucking against a current, etc. Basically anything other than flat, tiny wind chop, or smooth long period swell.

There's no criteria to necessarily earn the title, except when I start to see people turn green, that's a pretty good indication :)

lumpy water
filled with tapioca?

confused water
coming from all directions

Not flat

– Last Updated: Aug-25-16 2:39 AM EST –

I look at lumpy as meaning water that is not flat. So having waves, whether clapotsis, wind waves, or ocean swell (though I guess glassy long period waves would not be lumpy). White water could be lumpy also.

Edit - there likely would be some minimum size to be considered lumpy. Boat has to be moving some.

Not quite choppy, but getting close
Jack L

I’ve heard the phrase “potato patch” used for clapotis. I think it fits.

Had not thought about it but…
I am sure I have been inconsistent, but when the rise and fall is well ordered like in waves or swells I tend to call it waves or swells. Like the others above, I am more likely to call it lumpy when the forces of the water are less well ordered like at the mouth of tidal rivers or in a place with clapotis.

That said, well-ordered waves will beget this kind of lumpiness when they get near shore and encounter river mouths and high steep shorelines. So lumpy versus waves is really just a matter of where along its path you encounter the wave.

haha, there is no
There is no “precise definition” to those terms. It’s like porn, you’ll know it when you see it.


I saw it
Yesterday and the day before–especially the day before. Just another day on the Columbia.

I sure was off base with my perception
of lumpy water. When trying to find a definition, the photos that popped up were of helmeted paddlers battling waves and surf. That’s why I wondered about wave height.

The explanations here help put it into perspective - in my case I’ll toss in huge boat wakes that arrive out of nowhere - or maybe they’re rogue waves. No idea, but they’re spooky.


beyond lumpy last weekend
where we were south of Manistee. But the water was warm and the waves were great for body surfing.

I’m used to swimming in the ocean but was still a bit surprised at the longshore undertow. Strong! And there’s little time to recover between waves.

2 feet

– Last Updated: Aug-25-16 7:50 PM EST –

variable frequency....some here some there....blurps, beauts, spikes n dikes between with the occasional hole

Outgoing tide on Juan DE Fuca west past Eagle Pt or a strait eg Haro where wind tide n flow often disagree within bounds

yes...as clapotis in a broad channel

Think beach warnings were up.

– Last Updated: Aug-25-16 12:15 PM EST –

I started to paddle north towards Cross Village this weekend. Thought I'd do surfing lesson No. 2. Once the combination of wind and waves hit, all I could think of was Frank Barone's infamous "holy crap!"

Decided my plan wasn't such a good idea so I managed to change direction, my boat broached once (that's a weird feeling), and the waves were slamming me towards the shore. Too busy to be scared, but I'll admit to a few uneasy moments.

Had my GoPro running and when I watched the video, was surprised to see my stern was underwater so much.

I guess that was lumpy water.

We heard there was a drowning at the Grand Haven beach. It was dark and rainy but the surf was good and we just couldn’t resist. But it would have been a challenging day in a kayak.

Lumpy water always seemed like a general term for non-flat water to me, with no specific meaning.

On the other hand, clapotis has a specific definition - it’s a pyramidal standing wave pattern formed when a traveling wave strikes a vertical face (cliff, sea wall, etc) at an angle. The reflected wave interferes with the incoming wave to create a standing wave pattern that is particularly violent - peaks and troughs move straight up and down at high speed, while node locations stay constant. I’ve been capsized in clapotis and it sucks.

This does not necessarily mean that the term doesn’t have some vernacular usage that’s more general, but it does refer to a specific phenomenon.

you know it when you are in it!

I’m Not Familiar With The Term, But:
I’m very familiar with the term: “bumps,” which downwind surfers enjoy exploiting. I can understand the water feeling “lumpy” if you’re not surfing the wind generated waves or the ocean swells.

I first read about “Clapotis” in SEA KAYAKER MAGAZINE about 26 years ago, where I believe it said it is a “French” term that’s used to describe two waves colliding and shooting up a stream of water straight up into the air. There is also a loud unique sound on impact too! When paddling parallel to the cliffs, riding the incoming wave up the cliff and catching the resulting rebounding wave back down is a lot of fun. You don’t have to ride the wave up the cliff, just time it, so you catch the rebounding one and ride it out to sea. Best when there’s a collision with the incoming wave (Clapotis) and you’re able to jump on top of the resulting “bead” and take advantage of the ocean motion to propel you ahead. The rebounding wave effectively neutralizes the incoming wave, and that’s why you see surfski, outrigger and paddleboarders paddling very near the cliffs.