Fish swimming modes and the shape of both the fins and body are expected to affect their swimming ability under different flow conditions. These swimming strategies and body morphologies often correspond to distributional patterns of distinct functional groups exposed to natural and variable water flows. In this study, we used a swimming-respirometer to measure energetic costs during prolonged, steady swimming and while station holding in a range of simulated oscillatory wave-surge water flows, within the natural range of flow speeds and wave frequencies on coral reefs. We quantified the net cost of swimming (NCOS, metabolic costs above resting) for four reef fish species with differences in swimming mode and morphologies of the fin and body: a body and caudal fin (BCF) swimmer, the Hawaiian flagtail, Kuhlia xenura, and three pectoral fin swimmers, the kole tang, Ctenochaetus strigosus, the saddle wrasse, Thalassoma duperrey, and the Indo-Pacific sergeant major, Abudefduf vaigiensis. We found that the BCF swimmer had the highest rates of increase in NCOS with increasing wave frequency (i.e. increased turning frequency) compared with the pectoral fin swimmers. The wrasse, with a more streamlined, higher body fineness, had lower rates of increase in NCOS with increasing swimming speeds than the low body fineness species, but overall had the highest swimming NCOS, which may be a result of a higher aerobic swimming capacity. The deep-bodied (low fineness) pectoral fin swimmers (A. vaigiensis and C. strigosus) were the most efficient at station holding in oscillating, wave-surge water flows.