Wave Tattoos: History, Meanings & Designs

Wave Tattoos: History, Meanings & Designs

Wave tattoos may seem cheesy and overrated at first, but have you ever considered how powerful the image of a wave can be? Or perhaps taken into account the different cultural meanings behind this ultimate force of water?

Wave tattoos can come in all shapes and sizes, but the one thing they have in common is the unquestionable reference to the dynamic nature of water and its unmitigated strength.

In this article, we will review the history of wave tattoos, their meaning, different styles and characteristics, and the most common body placement for these tattoos.


What Is the History of Wave Tattoos?

While wave tattoos may be one of the most popular pieces of body art since the revolution of tattoos as a form of self expression starting in the 1930s, these simple curvy lines meant to represent one of nature’s most powerful forces were used to decorate the body long before the 20th century.

Pacific Island cultures such as the Polynesians have been engaging in the art of tattooing for thousands of years. They believe that the art on their body is a manifestation of their spiritual power. Since the Polynesians have always been highly dependent on the water for food and other necessities of life, it is no surprise that this element is highly revered.

To bear the image of the most powerful force of water – the wave – is to show that you were a powerful, brave, and immovable force of nature.

Asian cultures such as the Japanese also honor the four elements and consider water to be vital since it is life giving and dynamic. The wave is a way to portray all of these aspects of such an

important element and many are proud to bear it as a reminder of the flow of life.


What Do Wave Tattoos Symbolize?

Wave tattoos can symbolize many things, but none of these meanings are subtle or meek.

A wave is such as powerful depiction that it serves as a reminder of the strength of nature and the power behind a collective force of a seemingly weak element.

Waves also represent constant change and motion. Whereas life is not static, neither is the flow of water. Its circular pattern shows how life revolves between birth and death and back to birth again. The complementarity of the wave to its elemental counterparts of air, fire, and earth shows that it is not an “extra” or “addition.” It is crucial to life.

If you are looking for a simple tattoo that speaks to your power, your unstoppable will, your respect for nature, and your acceptance of the vital role you play in the world, a wave tattoo is exactly what you need.


What Do Wave Tattoos Mean?

Wave tattoos can hold different and personal meanings for different people, but they usually serve as reminders of strength and power.

Although water may not seem too threatening, the imminence of a curled wall of ocean is not something to lightly ignore, nor will you be if you carry the image of one of Mother Nature’s most destructive forces.

The curl of a wave can be easily portrayed to show the revolution of life and dynamic characteristics of an ever-changing person. Wave tattoos are a message that shouts “I am not a static being!

This little tattoo can symbolize a new beginning for you or that you have found new meaning within yourself.

Water is often the symbol of rebirth and a wave can illustrate how this life changing moment can be powerful and peaceful all at once. This tiny pictorial can simultaneously show that you have overcome obstacles, stood fast against the threat of fear, and flowed in a different direction to keep on living.


Characteristics and Styles of Wave Tattoos

Wave tattoos can come in a variety of styles and characteristics. One of the most common is the tribal tattoo that depicts the curling, rolling lines of water usually in completely black ink. Sometimes, these can even be a multiform tattoo that uses the waves to form another picture of an animal or another symbol.

Some wave tattoos are small and simple – single unbroken, curved line, while others are large and complex with intricate detail that almost eliminates the need to imagine the water moving. One of the most popular wave tattoos is some variation of the famous Japanese painting.

Other wave tattoos are accompanied by sea creatures to symbolize a love of ocean life, nautical symbols like anchors or ships for those associated with the lifestyle, or surfers for those who engage in the sport.


Where Do Wave Tattoos Usually Go? 

Depending on the size of your wave tattoo, your aim could be to show the world your symbol of strength and power or keep it as a hidden reminder for yourself alone. For those who like the small and simple, the wrist or the ankle are perfect places to have a simple wave tattoo inscribed. Both can be easily covered up with a bracelet or a shoe.

For a bolder placement, an encircling upper arm band can be a tactful yet firm way to display your symbol of strength. The upper or lower back is also ideal because they can be covered easily with a shirt but will be on full display when at the beach and in full communion with the element your tattoo portrays.

For larger depictions such as those that incorporate an entire scene, a full back tattoo or a sleeve are a bold choice to display your wave and provide enough canvas to include any additional features.



Wave tattoos have been around for thousands of years thanks to Asian and Pacific Island cultures who use the symbol as a reverent way to depict strength and balance in life. Nowadays, a wave tattoo can bear these meanings and more, and be displayed as a tribal symbol, an artistic expression, or a simple line.

Whether you go bold with a full sleeve or subtle with a wrist tattoo, a wave is a timeless portrayal of power and dynamism.

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