'In my experience getting a good surf recording is one of the grails of
recording and perhaps as unattainable.
I've heard numerous descriptions of people doing a bit of sleight of ear
by recording from several locastions at varying distances from the break,
then mixing them to taste in the studio.
I pursue this goal avidly when in different environments and can share one
strategy I've embraced for doing these recordings with binaural-style
mics: foreground, foreground, foreground.
I try to find spots right down in the shore break, preferably with
some sort of terrain features against which the final encroachment of the
waves can interact.
For me this has meant mangrove roots, gravel of various kinds, rocks or
coral, etc.... the goal is to get very close to a universe of small slaps,
washes, hisses, sizzles, etc., the 'microfeatures' if you will. Ideally,
get *very* close to these (eg, crouched down only 12-18" above the water)
and in a place that has a fairly dramatic stereo action either crossing
waves right to left or vice versa, or situated perpendicularly to the
break, so it comes in one side and retreats back the way it came.
Assuming you're using omnis the larger wave action and break is generally
quite audible in the background, and typically has less high-frequency
content and more rumble, which makes it sit nicely as the appropriate
This kind of recording definitely provides a 'New Yorker view of the
world,' where the microfeatures are disproportionately loud relative to
what someone at a normal distance from the break would hear, but it's a
much more dynamic and interesting soundscape not unlike a 'foley' sound
approach then my first naive results, which as you say, tend to
approach washes of undistinguished noise.
Personally, I value that the results are still an 'authentic' (i.e. uncomposed)
soundscape as well which is no way to suggest that multi-site
recording is not as valid a document of place, just that this method
agrees with my philosophy of recording...'
All of the following were made with Sonic Studios DSM-6/EH quasi-binaural
microphones, mounted in a windscreen headband, to consumer MD recorders.
The Lake Michigan recording was made using a Sonic Studios miniature
outboard preamp as well.