I am looking for word or expression that refers to the moment when a wave, with all its strength, closes itself, hits the beach and fades away.

Wave on the beach

  • 5
    It "breaks" on the beach and then "ebbs" away. – Hot Licks Jul 15 '15 at 11:40

After the wave breaks, it is called swash.

Swash, in geography, is known as a turbulent layer of water that washes up on the beach after an incoming wave has broken. Swash consists of two phases: uprush (onshore flow) and backwash (offshore flow). Wikipedia

enter image description here Image source: geographyas.info

  • The only thing I'll add to this diagram is that the crest rises because the friction is slowing down the lower levels of the wave, so the top is moving faster. This is why waves can break even at a distance from the shore, if the gradient of the ground underneath is right. – CR Drost Jul 15 '15 at 20:08

You could say the wave is ebbing. Typically, ebb is used to describe the tide going out, but it could also be applied to a single wave receding toward the sea.

ebb - flow back or recede


I think the term is that the wave is "breaking" from Oxford Dictionary:

5.5(Of waves) curl over and dissolve into foam: the Caribbean sea was breaking gently on the shore

I think it can also be considered to be "crashing" onto the shore which is similar but seems to have a more strong or violent image.

  • 3
    Waves can 'break' anywhere,,, I like 'crash' for when they hit the shoreline. – Oldbag Jul 15 '15 at 12:41
  • Indeed, break has nothing to do with shoreline, but crash is the first thought that came to my mind. – talrnu Jul 15 '15 at 13:00
  • Possibly also "breaking" can be used when it's curling over and dissolving as described in the definition and once they've hit the shore and are no longer waves, the waves have already "broken" but yes, it's not perfect which is probably why "gently" and "on the shore" is included in the example to provide the rest of the context such as strength of break and where. I like "swash" suggested by the user above. – 21hr Jul 16 '15 at 2:04

I'd still describe it as a wave (as it seems you want to still acknowledge it as such), so I'd call it a receding wave.


Big waves pound on the shore, small waves lap at the shore. They roll and crash into the shore. They wash over sand and rocks.


Living at the beach most of my life, we simply say in common language, "I love the sound of the waves crashing on the beach."

Author George L. Babec


If you are looking for ornate language, the options below would work for me. Obviously, they convey slightly different meanings.

"caressingly assaulted"

"assaultively caressed"

Ex: The waves caressingly assaulted the long arc of the Pacific beach.

Ex: Long waves assaultively caressed the dry skeleton of the abandoned schooner.

  • Either of these verbs is fine on its own, slapping an adverbial form of one onto the other is a bit excessive. That is, large violent waves can be said to assault and soothing calm waves can be said to caress. – talrnu Jul 15 '15 at 18:10
  • I may be in the minority but I find ornate language excessive and indulgent. Readers deserve concise writing, and you can be concise without sacrificing detail. – user3932000 Apr 24 '20 at 9:10

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