Identifying the condition(s) of how tropical cyclones intensify, in particular rapid intensification, is challenging, because of the complexity of the problem involving internal dynamics, environments, and mutual interactions; yet the benefit to improved forecasts may be rewarding. To make the analysis more tractable, an attempt is made here focusing near the sea surface, by examining 23-yr global observations comprising over 16 000 cases of tropical cyclone intensity change, together with upper-ocean features, surface waves, and lowlevel atmospheric moisture convergence. Contrary to the popular misconception, we found no statistically significant evidence that thicker upper-ocean layers and/or warmer temperatures are conducive to rapid intensification. Instead, we found in storms undergoing rapid intensification significantly higher coincidence of low-level moisture convergence and a dimensionless air-sea exchange coefficient closely related to the youth of the surface waves under the storm. This finding is consistent with the previous modeling results, verified here using ensemble experiments, that higher coincidence of moisture and surface fluxes tends to correlate with intensification, through greater precipitation and heat release. The young waves grow to saturation in the right-front quadrant as a result of trapped-wave resonance for a group of Goldilocks cyclones that translate neither too slowly nor too quickly, which 70% of rapidly intensifying storms belong. Young waves in rapidly intensifying storms also produce relatively less (as percentage of the wind input) Stokes-induced mixing and cooling in the cyclone core. A reinforcing coupling between tropical cyclone wind and waves leading to rapid intensification is proposed.