What are the Best Tides & Times to Go Surfing?
When trying to score great surf, a lot of factors come into play. Storms, new swell, wind speeds, even the shape of the ground all become make or break considerations—but the two most critical components are tide and time.
Of course, the best tides and times to surf them are always changing with those other variables. Different types of breaks and daily weather conditions will keep you on your toes if you want to dip them in the water for the perfect session. To truly surf the best tides at the best times you need to be well-informed.
Experience and local wisdom will teach you that each wave is unique. So, first learn everything about the break that doesn’t change. Then you can understand which general conditions help the wave perform best. And finally, you must learn to forecast a bit of weather to match all the conditions up correctly.
Don’t worry, we have a few shortcuts to help you dial-in the necessary knowledge to get you ready to study tide charts and select the best time. We also asked a few Nixon employees around the headquarters in Southern California to offer insight on their local breaks around Encinitas.
Read on for a brief breakdown on how to surf according to the best tides and times, plus hear from a few of our own at Nixon to understand what works best for them.
What Tide is Best for Surfing?
If you want to understand the best tide to surf you have to start with the type of wave you are interested in surfing. Know if it is a beach break, reef break or any kind of point break. Depending on the type of break, the wave may only work with specific tide conditions. Oftentimes beach breaks provide more waves throughout a changing tide, when many reef and point breaks will only perform at specific tides.
In general, most waves will not work at maximum high or maximum low tides. Waves take their best form when there is some pull or push from a rising or dropping tide. Still, every wave is different, and you can’t rest on generalizations. Another important distinction to make is that not all high and low tides are the same! Maximum high or low tides range depending on where you live, and can make for unsurfable conditions if the tide maximum is too extreme.
In terms of waves around the Nixon headquarters, “Medium tide,” works best according to our Sales Manager. “Usually draining (high going low tide) helps a little more with wave shape, but it could be either way. This also depends on the break characteristics.”
“Knowing what the tide is doing pretty much dictates where I’ll go,” says our Senior Product Merchandiser. “For my go-to spot, low going high. Depends [though]… I have spots for all [tides].”
This is where the addition of a tide watch becomes vital to your kit. In addition to easy monitoring of daily tide statistics for your local break, you can plan out sessions in advance and reference past days when the wave seemed to work best. Tools like tide watches are what set apart the Pros from the Joes.
What are the Best Weather Conditions for Surfing?
When it comes to the best weather conditions for surfing, the answer is truly personal. Depending on your interests, you either want to pursue large waves or pleasant weather which rarely coexist.
Of course, if you can score offshore wind your session will surely be enhanced. Offshore wind blows from land to sea, against the wave to create a smooth surface and well-defined shape, versus wind from any other direction will cause a bumpy surface and crumbling wave. If your local break experiences seasonal offshore winds, for example, then you will be treated to long periods of smooth ocean surface and great surf as a result.
That said, once you’ve picked your preference and figured out the general tide that works best at the break you plan to surf: choose the best time to paddle out based on the swell and weather that suits your pursuits.
Swell is the energetic pulse that moves through the ocean and ultimately causes waves to break as they near land. Swell information is crucial. Precise direction, timing intervals, size, and the number of active swells at any given time will affect your decision.
“Swell and weather conditions are big factors,” agrees our Global Sales Director. “If the weather is perfect, I’ll surf regardless of swell conditions. And vice versa. If the swell is perfect, I’ll surf regardless of weather.”
The direction the wave faces (in relation to a compass) and what lies offshore will determine the impact any given swell will have on the break. It is important to know whether the beach faces a cardinal direction (such as due west) versus an ordinal direction (like west-southwest), as well as whether any islands are located nearby. If the break becomes ‘protected’ from an oncoming weather pattern due to the presence of islands in the surrounding waters or the direction of the coast, you may not experience the swell at the same strength or even at all.
When is the Best Time to Surf?
Choosing your time wisely is key, and managing it well is just as important. In addition to monitoring the tides and weather, ‘life’ has a way of dictating your time as well. Personal preference and a busy schedule can dramatically impact your window of surf opportunity.
The fact remains–unless the wind is offshore–little to no wind is ideal, and mornings and evenings typically offer calm breezes at best. Too much wind and the surface will be so bumpy you either won’t be able to catch a wave or the ride will be so inconsistent you won’t enjoy it.
For some, there is nothing better than waking up and surfing before dawn. A ‘dawn patrol’ session sets your day off with exercise, adrenaline, and quality time in nature for a healthy start. Others prefer capping their day off with a surf at sunset as time to reflect while exercising and enjoying the tranquility of the outdoors. However, crowds can often become a factor of their own at these peak hours.
“I LOVE a good lunch session with the sun out and less people,” says one of the Product Developers from our watch team. “I don’t usually decide to surf based on what time it is, but when conditions (and my schedule) align. Early mornings are great, but it can be cold and crowded.”
Pro Tip: Tide watches are the perfect tool to sync your surf session with current conditions, AND they can keep you on schedule for your life back on land. If you are sneaking one or two waves in during lunch or need to get back to your car before the two-hour tow zone takes away your whip; utilize your tide watch’s alarm settings to manage your surf break wisely.
What is the Best Time of Year to Surf?
The best time of year can become a factor all its own. Seasonal surfers do exist. If you live in a place where weather patterns fluctuate dramatically, then prepare for your surfing plans to follow suit. Now, this isn’t as big of an issue in some areas in the world, but in general most places have a preferred season or two.
For Nixon headquarters employees, seasonal changes have direct effects on weather patterns which change swell frequency, water and air temperatures, and most notably wave size. If you want to surf the biggest waves and you live in California (or anywhere in North America) you want to surf in the winter.
However, if cold temperatures are going to spoil your good time then summer surfing will be in your future. The crowds will increase but so will the heat to make for more comfortable air and water conditions. For Californians, the temperature changes by enough degrees so that you can actually shed your wetsuit entirely—here’s to more surfing in boardshorts and bikinis, the way it was meant to be.
Time to Set Your Surf Alarm
Now that you understand the importance of weather and wave selection when choosing the best tides and times to surf, you are ready to plan accordingly. Check your tide watch, set an alarm, and score the next perfect session!