Wave Tattoo Designs & Their Meaning

Surfs up, dude! There aren’t many elements as versatile as water. A wave can take the form of a small shore break or rough tidal seas. 

For many of us lucky people, we were raised listening to the crash of the waves onto the shore. Or checking the ocean first thing in the morning to see if the waves were good enough to surf.

A wave tattoo is the best visual representation of the element of water or the memories of surfing during the holidays. In this article, we share all you need to know about wave tattoo designs, meanings, styles, colors and placements to help you decide on your next masterpiece.

Popular Designs and Meanings

A tattoo is profoundly unique and often well-thought-out. It’s essential for most of us to place meaning in artwork to express our individuality. For those opting for a wave tattoo, you could love to surf, have nostalgic memories of a family beach holiday or possibly you’re a seaman or woman. For many, it could just be because they like the way a wave looks.

Whatever the reason, here are some popular design options to help you choose.

A Wild Sea

The ocean and sea symbolize life and strength. For most of us, it’s a wild ride. This option generally encompasses many waves and sometimes integrates an additional element like a ship out in the rough seas.

Individuals who choose the wild sea or large waves are often making a statement with their new artform. They will often place a realistic mural of the wild seas on a large area for all to see.

A Single Wave

The single wave is the best symbol for the element of water. One could choose a tattoo for their love of the water for many reasons. They might have been raised close to the beach, be an avid surfer or they could identify with the Pisces astrological sign.

The water element represents compassion, adaptability and sensitivity. The single wave is the best way to express your alignment to the qualities of the element of water

The single wave could be a great option simply because you love the exhilarating feeling of seeing perfect barrels on your morning surf check.

The One Liner

A simple line option is another way to express your love for the waves and water without the drama of creating a fully formed wave. Simplicity doesn’t mean that the one-liner doesn’t require skilled artistry.

There are many ways to design your one lined wave, and placement is important. While the single one lined wave is the most popular, many add meaningful words into the line, an ECG diagram or multiple waves.

Popular Styles for Wave Tattoos

Wave tattoos are one of the most versatile art forms in terms of styling options. You can etch a raging ocean or a singular line to represent a wave, the styles are also vast. Here are the most popular.


A popular art style is realism. With this style, you’ll detail the foamy peaks of the waves, the rougher lines and rippling through the water. The style works well with any theme but is especially powerful in a large mural of rough waves and seas.

Realism is the best way to portray more emotion in your artwork for the viewer. It’s a glimpse into a real-life scenario that often leaves onlookers in awe at the artform.


As an iconic shape that represents water, the wave and geometric styling go hand in hand. It’s popular to integrate this by placing the wave inside a shape such as a diamond, rectangle or circle. Geometric shapes can also be used to over or underlay the wave.

The geometric wave is best complemented with other styles. For example, the wave might be fitted inside a diamond giving the piece a geometric feel; however, the wave itself is etched in a realistic style. Geometric styling is an individual way to express your creativity.


Minimalistic wave tattoos are the perfect choice for the apprehensive first-timer. They are easy to hide. For the ladies, this style creates a feminine touch. The most popular minimalistic artform is the wave displayed as a black line.

In this style, you can add words to the line, add one wave or many.


Abstract art is powerful because it can showcase your individuality and artistry. The choices are endless with abstract wave tattoos, but most integrate other elements into the tattoo to express their uniqueness.

Some ideas are adding some brush lines, different colors and harsh shapes and textures. Different elements to tie into the wave could be a graph with formulae, ECG lines, or the other cardinal elements of fire, earth, and air.


Watercolor is a wonderful option for those desiring a softer look. It can effortlessly be combined with the other art styles and they can be a continuation of any other watercolor pieces that you have already.

You can add dashes of many different colors behind the wave or in dramatic brush strokes for a more abstract feel.

Colors Used in Wave Tattoos

The color scheme of a wave tattoo is quite consistent amongst designs. In geometric and abstract designs, you can use yellows, reds and oranges. Most people prefer a blue, green or black piece.


Blue is the most popular choice and you can create an individual wave by playing with many different shadings. Darker blues are the most common choice, as one of the hardiest tattoos, they’re more unlikely to fade over time.

Dark blues generally represent the rough seas for those who like to take a walk on the wild side. If you’re more of an island guy or girl, a lighter blue will suit your personality and they easily provide a feminine feel for the ladies.

If you want to create a 3D level of imagery to your piece, then try multiple blues. You can work with your artist to shade from darkest to lightest blues, depending on which parts of the wave you’d like to accentuate. This is a good option for those who like to create a story with their art.


Greens are often added to blues to create a sense of depth and mystery. Often, deep seas are laced with darker greens and the island paradise with teal. You can create the atmosphere that you’d like by adding different shades of green into your piece.

To create more depth to your wave, add some green to show the viewer whether it’s a deep barrel, dumping wave or simply rough, ocean seas.


Wave tattoos might typically be imagined in greens and blues, but black is also popular. Black is a good option for those who already have a large range of tattoos and they are concerned about clashing color schemes.

Utilizing shading to create a 3D effect is also popular. This can be done on any design but it’s especially powerful on larger pieces.

Black is the best color for minimalistic art such as the solid black line of a wave on the wrist. It doesn’t stand out as much as other colors, which makes it perfect for those who would like a conservative look.

Body Placements

The wave tattoo can be placed almost anywhere. From somewhere as tiny as behind the ear or as large as the entire back.

Small Tattoos

Small wave tattoos are very popular and ideal for your first time going under the needle. Some common placements are:

  • Ankle
  • Back of the shoulder
  • Behind the ear
  • Back of the neck
  • Wrist

For first-timers, the one black link wave style is popular. It’s a minimum risk but a maximum reward piece. These look great behind the ear or neck for those going for a conservative look. 

You don’t need to restrict your creative freedom because your art is small. Realistic smaller pieces of the crashing waves are popular on the ankle and wrist. You can add an abstract or geometric touch if you’re feeling more creative.

Large Tattoos

Bold and large wave tattoos are striking on the eye and a great way to express the artist’s creativity and talent. Some popular placements are:

  • Arm
  • Back
  • Side of the body

These tattoos tend to be more realistic in nature and tie into other elements on your body. On the arm, a wave can easily tie in with a sleeve and you can integrate geometric, watercolor or abstract styling.

Back and side body tattoos are often more realistic styles with other elements tied into them. Some common elements include ships, boats, surfers, flowers and palm trees. You can transform these tattoos into stunning murals that capture the essence of life on the water.

Best Wave Tattoos