Whenever there’s an earthquake below the ocean, people who live along nearby coasts worry about tsunamis. But do you have to have water to make waves?

Absolutely not! Would you believe all you need is a bunch of people willing to stand up and cheer?

If you’ve ever been to a major sporting event or even watched one on television, you’re probably familiar with “the wave.” We’re talking about that unique cheering phenomenon in which successive groups of audience members jump to their feet and raise their hands in the air.

As section after section of cheering spectators rise to their feet and then sit down again, a wave appears to travel through the “sea” of audience members in a stadium. Not only is it fun to participate in a wave, it’s an incredible thing to watch as the wave travels around and around a huge stadium.

Curious Wonder Friends may be wondering how this craziness got started. Looking back over the history of the wave, we discovered that there’s a bit of controversy about exactly when, where and by whom the wave was invented.

Some historians point to an American League Championship Series baseball game between the Oakland Athletics and the New York Yankees on October 15, 1981. During that game, professional cheerleader “Krazy” George Henderson led a section-by-section cheer that some believe was the first time the wave occurred during a major sporting event.

However, there are many reports of wave-like cheers occurring well before that time. For example, some people believe the wave started at Pacific Lutheran University basketball games during the early 1960s.

There are also reports that the wave was done at the 1976 Montreal Olympics, as well as at many National Hockey League games in Canada in the late 1970s. Regardless of where and when the wave was invented, one thing we know for sure is that it became famous in the early 1980s at Seattle Seahawks football games at the Kingdome in Seattle, Washington.

Outside of North America, many people saw the wave for the first time during the 1986 FIFA World Cup soccer matches in Mexico. For this reason, the wave is known as “the Mexican wave” in many parts of the world. Some people even call it la ola — or just ola — from the Spanish word for “wave.”

The wave has taken on many forms over the years. There are now fast waves, slow waves and even simultaneous waves moving in different directions around a stadium.

On August 23, 2008, 168,000 fans at the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Sharpie 500 at Bristol Motor Speedway in Bristol, Tennessee, set the Guinness World Record for most people doing the wave at once.


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    • Hi, Noah! We’re glad you liked this Wonder of the Day®! Have you ever participated in a “wave” like the one we learned about by exploring this Wonder? :-)

  1. We don’t think you need water to make a wave, unless your talking about water waves!! We love the video, it was awesome. We liked how you put the wave in there with all those people. I would think you need a body or arms to do the w~a~v~e.

    Lauren and Abby

    • Thanks for leaving us this great comment, Lauren and Abby! We think it would be fun to be part of a huge crowd “wave” like the one in the video, don’t you? :-)

    • Hello there, Mason! Thank you for letting us know that you liked this Wonder of the Day®…we appreciate hearing from you! The video for this Wonder helps us “see” what it feels like to participate in a crowd wave! We think it was really fun to feel like we were a part of the “wave” of fans standing up and “waving” their hands at the football game! :-)

  2. Dear Wonderopolis,
    I love this website! Every day I look forward to reading the interesting articles, and some of them are really funny! I like how you guys respond to every comment, and I just wanted to say thanks!
    Your friend,
    Jamie :D

    • You’re an AWESOME Wonder Friend for leaving us such a special comment, Jamie! It makes us really happy to hear that you look forward to each Wonder of the Day®, and that you get to laugh at some of them…laughing and learning go GREAT together, don’t they? :-)

  3. Awesome! I was in Disneyland when a bunch of Brazilian soccer players were there, too, and they started a wave when we were watching a show.

    • How cool! We think it would be SO MUCH fun to be part of a crowd wave like that, Missy! Maybe we could all start a Wonderopolis wave! :-)

    • We KNEW you were a FUN Wonder Friend, Noah! We think we’re going to try to start a crowd wave the next time we’re at a sporting event in Wonderopolis! :-)

  4. We were not in school on Saturday, but we had to come back and check out this Wonder. Our friend Noah was telling us how he commented over the weekend so he was excited to share with us. We have so many WONDERful students who are getting online at home and we are soooooo excited for that! We wanted to share that Noah and Cherigurl555 are some of our WONDERful thinkers who are even making connections at home! :)

    • We LOVE it when we get comments from our Wonder Friends at Kerrick Elementary School! Noah did do some great WONDERing over the weekend, and we were so glad to hear from him! Cherigurl555 always leaves us AWESOME comments, too! Thank you to ALL of you for visiting Wonderopolis each day, letting us know all the things you learn, and for teaching US some new things, too! :-)

  5. We had a few other ideas about waves. We talked about heat waves and shock waves. We can also wave hi and good-bye. You can also do the “wave” by yourself as a dance move! Great wonder!

    • WOW! You guys sure did some more great WONDERing about waves after you visited this Wonder of the Day®, Mrs. Cowan’s class! We LOVE hearing that! Thank you for sharing all those AWESOME ways to wave! :-)

  6. I’ve always known about the wave, but I’ve never taken the time to think about it like this. I never knew when the wave actually started and also when it became famous. I have gone to a lot of sporting events, and at any one I go to, there’s a wave. So, this wonder is like a little lesson on the wave for me to now know more about “The wave.”

    • What a super great comment you left for us about crowd waves today, Josh! Thanks so much! We are glad you learned something new about a fun activity that you have seen at many sporting events! :-)

  7. Our basketball team always does the wave when someone makes a shot. But, sometimes, they don’t look good because someone might forget to do the wave. :( But it’s still is fun. :)

    • We like your positive attitude, Jourdan! You’re right, sometimes people might forget to stand up, or they might not want to participate in the wave at all. That’s unfortunate, but it shouldn’t keep the other energetic people (like you!) from doing the wave and having lots of FUN! Way to go! :-)

  8. Hey wonderopolis, you taught me that there is a bunch of different types of waves. I did a wave before at a concert many times, and at some sports events. :) !!!

    • That’s AWESOME, Keyvette! Thank you for sharing that you learned something new about waves today, and also that you have participated in crowd waves before! They sure are fun to be a part of, aren’t they? :-)

    • Hey there, Wonder Friend Desmon! Thanks for visiting us today and sharing your comment! Can you remember a time where you “made waves”? :)

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Have you ever wondered…

  • Do you need water to make waves?
  • Who invented “the wave”?
  • What’s the Guinness World Record for the most people doing the wave?

Wonder Gallery

crowd at game doing wave_shutterstock_3089615Vimeo Video

Try It Out

Of course, you don’t need water to make another type of wave: sound waves! But did you know that sound waves can travel through both air and water? It’s true!

Play the How Far Away Is It? game to explore how quickly sound travels through air compared to water. You’ll be able to move a lightning rod and an underwater submarine to compare how quickly sound travels in different situations.

You can also build a super sound cone to help hear tiny sounds from far away. Using just a piece of poster board and some tape, you can create a tool that will capture tiny sound waves out of the air and transmit them to your ear, allowing you to hear things you couldn’t hear with your ears alone!


Still Wondering

Check out National Geographic Education’s Parts and Sizes of Waves lesson to learn about the parts of a wave, wave height and wavelength.


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