AbstractThe impact of sea state on air–sea momentum flux (or wind stress) is a poorly understood component of wind–wave interactions, particularly in high wind conditions. The wind stress and mean wind profile over the ocean are influenced by the characteristics of boundary layer turbulence over surface waves, which are strongly modulated by transient airflow separation events; however, the features controlling their occurrence and intensity are not well known. A large-eddy simulation (LES) for wind over a sinusoidal wave train is employed to reproduce laboratory observations of phase-averaged airflow over waves in strongly forced conditions. The LES and observation both use a wave-following coordinate system with a decomposition of wind velocity into mean, wave-coherent, and turbulent fluctuation components. The LES results of the mean wind profile and structure of wave-induced and turbulent stress components agree reasonably well with observations. Both LES and observation show enhanced turbulent stress and mean wind shear at the height of the wave crest, signifying the impact of intermittent airflow separation events. Disparities exist particularly near the crest, suggesting that airflow separation and sheltering are affected by the nonlinearity and unsteadiness of laboratory waves. Our results also suggest that the intensity of airflow separation is most sensitive to wave steepness and the surface roughness parameterization near the crest. These results clarify how the characteristics of finite-amplitude waves can control the airflow dynamics, which may substantially influence the mean wind profile, equivalent surface roughness, and drag coefficient.