I like to play at the beach chasing the [...] by the shoreline.

I think tides isn't the word, because it refers to the slow changes on the shore. And waves, I think they are bigger and are in the sea?

  • 4
    These are called waves. You could call this meeting the shoreline. Waves lap or crash upon the shoreline. Mar 19, 2015 at 13:58
  • @IanMacDonald Also roll in to the shoreline?
    – wyc
    Mar 19, 2015 at 14:02
  • Absolutely. There are quite a few words that can be used to describe the interaction. Mar 19, 2015 at 14:19
  • A wave devolves into ripples.
    – Hot Licks
    Mar 19, 2015 at 17:16
  • Could you describe more precisely the word you're looking for? If you mean "What is a wave called when it's very close to the shore?", the answer is "a wave." Mar 20, 2015 at 1:00

8 Answers 8


I've always called it surf.

the mass or line of foam formed by waves breaking on a seashore or reef.

Definition from Oxford Dictionary


You can also call them- breaker, breakers, or surf


In British English, I would call the dying flow of a wave on a beach wash.

Google also appears to confirm this:

noun: wash

the surging of water or breaking of waves or the sound made by this.

"the wash of waves on the pebbled beach"

synonyms: surge, flow, swell, sweep, rise and fall, roll, splash


Although this may be incorrect, and more correctly attributed to the sound. From the Oxford English Dictionary entry for wash

c. The sound of the surge of water.

1845 J. Coulter Adventures Pacific ix. 109, I..listened to the wash of the briny element on the beach.

1871 H. W. Longfellow in S. Longfellow Life H. W. Longfellow (1891) III. 177 The low wash of the sea very soothing.

1873 W. Black Princess of Thule iii. 45 The wash of the ripples along the coast could be heard.

1918 Blackwood's Mag. June 717/2 The wash of the swell on rocks met my ear.


I found a site on surfing in Hawaii that calls that backwash, whitewash, and soup.

  • 1
    I would consider those more informal or slang.
    – Alex A.
    Mar 19, 2015 at 19:14
  • 6
    Possibly surfers' jargon: these aren't really in common use. Mar 19, 2015 at 21:14
  • 1
    Another one is the "foam"
    – Trevor
    Mar 20, 2015 at 19:39

"Surf" has been accepted as an answer, and "waves" has been proposed a few times, but both words refer to a far broader concept than what the OP asks about.

A "wave" is the rolling shape which is formed far out at sea by the action of the wind on the surface of the water. None of the water in waves actually moves very far, it is the shape which is propagates towards land.

"Waves" become "surf" from the point at which they first begin to break (according to the dictionary, and in general surfer parlance), although of course they'll still be referred to as "waves".

Finally, when surf reaches shallow water, and the rotational force of the original wave has been eliminated by friction with the shore and the air, it is reduced to a surge of foamy water which washes up the beach, and the recedes again, referreed to as "swash" on the way in, and "backwash" on the way out. (Wikipedia page for Swash)

  • 1
    Even if 'swash' is the technical term used by those needing to make a fine distinction, 'surf' and 'waves' would be the terms in more common usage. This matches the 2nd definition at the dictionary.com entry you've linked.
    – DCShannon
    Mar 21, 2015 at 0:56

Acknowledging that wave and surf might also fit the purpose...

Wave run-up and run-out are terms that I think correspond to what you are talking about - the almost flat influx of water at the far reach of a wave on the beach.

A technical term that could easily be used is swash, the inrush of water due to a wave.

An associated term that I like and rarely see is spume, the froth caused by wave/surf action.


Wavelets would be accurate. I like to play at the beach chasing the [wavelets] by the shoreline.


A possible variant is beachcomber, from Oxford Dictionary:

A long wave rolling in from the sea

Though I think this word is much more often used in its other meaning:

A vagrant who makes a living by searching beaches for articles of value and selling them.

I would simply go with wave.

  • 4
    Long curling/breaking waves are sometimes called combers (although this is getting fairly rare itself). Beachcomber has pretty exclusively referred to people for many many years.
    – Joffan
    Mar 19, 2015 at 19:06

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.