Hey guys, hopefully I'll be able to get a good explanation of this one instead of being torn apart. I've been surfing for about 4 years, but because I don't live within a close proximity to the beach, I still don't know about ideal swell conditions.
When I was being taught to surf, I was told low tide was usually going to bring in better waves, but on here I see a lot of discussion of high tide being for the best. Could someone explain when each tide is beneficial to surfers?
good question... a lot of people are unsure how tides affect the surf and it really varies from spot to spot, and on different swell types (direction, size, and period).
I see you are from Delmarva, so to try to simplify things, there are some general rules you can go by for many of the Delmarva breaks.
Given that the swell size stays the same through they day:
- incoming tide is generally better than outgoing tide.
- Dead low tide is generally the least optimal time.
- On a short period swell (8 seconds or less), the low to mid incoming tide is optimal.
- The longer the period swell, the higher the tide seems to be best. So, for 12-14+ seconds, generally the 2 hours leading up to high tide are best.
As mentioned above, different spots and areas react different to the change in water levels and that has to do with the varying offshore bathymetry (how the depths of the ocean change). For instance, the north side of the indian river inlet is generally better on a lower tide, where as a higher tide makes the wave much slower. On the other side of the inlet, generally, a higher tide allows for much more size and power. The inlets are always a little trickier than your average beach breaks.
Some spots like a high tide. Racetracks in Indo needs a high tide because when it's low, it's too shallow and if you wipe out, you're cheese grated across the reef.
Some spots like a low tide, because when there's a high tide, there's too much water for the wave to feel the sandbar, reef, etc. If you're out surfing at Maverick's, you like a lower tide.
Some spots like an incoming or an outgoing depending if they need that extra push or not. It depends on the bottom, swell direction, and wind.
The beauty about surfing is that no general principle will ever apply to the ocean or the waves that break upon the shore. Most other pursuits have a consistency about them that surfing lacks. The ocean is chaotic and there's no easy way to master it.
I've been surfing with people with a surfline subscription that supposedly told them that the waves were junk, then found 8ft. barrels because my buddy wanted to follow his gut. A lot of these sites look like they can turn the art of predicting waves into a science, and that there's a definitive answer to questions like, "what's the best tide?" and "where's the best spot for this weekend?" In reality, these questions are really hard to answer because there's A LOT of variables that go into answering a question like that (direction, type of swell, bottom, winds, tide, etc.). Those guys who live near the beach and always seem to know where to go, usually do some driving before they find their spot. Their experience just helps them narrow down their choices, they don't decide before they go to the beach. They look around and see for themselves.
There is a lot of intricate work involved in forecasting (right, Swellinfo?) and it can't tell you the whole story. The sandbar you're surfing might be walled and mellow, while the sandbar a half mile away can be hollow and racy, with some fun sections. I think what helps the most is to keep a log about you're experiences at a particular beach. Note whatever you think is important, and keep that as a reference for the next time you go down. That will start to give you the experience with the ocean that you need to make a good call. And always, give respect, get respect. There aren't any easy answers in surfing, so don't be fooled by sites that seem to give you all the answers by giving an accurate forecast. That's only 1/2 the battle.
Well said. Just remember, the spot might have been good yesterday, but there are a lot of variables taken into effect. Swell size, swell direction, tide, wind, period, bottom of the ocean. Sand bar could be good one day and bad the next, depends on how the ocean is moving that day.
Surf forecasting sites can help, but can never give 100% accuracy. Best way to find out is to go see it with your eyes.
Interesting. I have been studying especially the tides and directions for the past months as I have become pretty good predicting conditions in a mix of webcams between 2 spots far apart on the island, websites and experience of past swells. But there is one thing thats for sure: If you want to be sure about the conditions you got to drive to the beach and take a look. And sometimes even that can fool you. It's one thing to watch it from the beach and another to step into the water and see the waves from sea level and closer to them. But as Surfline here said before me, I thought it must be common sense that an incoming tide is supposed to generate bigger and better waves since more water get pushed towards the land and when the tide is getting low, obviously the water goes back and the waves should get smaller. But every day and spot is different.