Abstract A nearshore-bar system was surveyed periodically through a storm and the following recovery period. The data showed a very rapid response of morphology to changing wave conditions and allowed various models on bar formation to be tested. Under low-energy conditions prior to the storm a small bar was surveyed 13 m offshore. Both the high reflectivity of the beach and the cross-shore distance to the bar are consistent with a model of sediment convergence at the node or antinode of a standing wave of incident period. Such a small-scale bar may be a common feature on beaches with steep foreshores and more gentle offshore slopes. With the increase in wave height during the storm, the bar became better developed and migrated offshore at rates up to 2.2 m h −1. The bar maintained its form in that the ratio of trough depth to crest depth ( h t h c ) remained roughly constant. The bar was in no way related to processes which would cause the convergence of sediment in the breaker zone; through most of the storm the bar-crest distance offshore was typically only 10% of the surf-zone width. Analysis of the bar distance offshore in terms of a standing wave motion showed that the causative wave period must have been much longer than that of incident waves, probably on the order of a minute. Surf-zone wave data showed significant energy in the infragravity band at these periods although no definite link has been made. After the height of the storm, the bar had a crescentic morphology. The development of this morphology occurred very rapidly with parts of the bar migrating onshore at rates up to 1.2 m h −1. In contrast to the storm, during the recovery period h t h c varied by nearly a factor of three. Analysis of the offshore and longshore length scales showed the bar to be similar to one which would be generated by a standing mode 1 edge wave of period on the order of one minute.