Posts Tagged ‘surfing’

October 7th, 2011 | By | 4,821 Comments

How the Tide Affects the Surf and Everything Else You Need to Know about the Tide

If you think the tide is a just a laundry detergent, you might need a little more help besides this here article. But if you’re like a lot of people out there, you probably just have a couple of simple questions that I can hopefully answer below. I’ll start from the beginning, not to insult your intelligence, but instead to make sure that everyone can follow along and fully understand why the oceans do what they do.

What is the tide?

First off, tide is a general term used to refer to the daily rise and fall of the Earth’s oceans (and other large bodies of water) caused by the external gravities of the sun and the moon.

As the Earth spins in orbit, both the moon and sun tug furiously at the planet as it makes its rounds in space. Since the world’s bodies of water aren’t “bolted down” as are the rocks and mountains on the Earth’s crust, these waters shift and flow depending on the movements of the moon and sun (I know, technically it’s the Earth movements and not the sun’s Mr. Copernicus, but you get my drift.)

Tides Sun Moon and Earth

Because these external forces of gravity are so great, not only do the oceans bulge out in the direction towards the sun and the moon, but they also want to bulge out in the opposite direction. The result is an almost footbal like bulge of the oceans when the gravities are aligned. That’s because the Earth is pulled by each of these gravities so forcefully that the planet itself displaces water on the opposite side.

So that is why every 24 hours, or 1 full rotation of the Earth, there are generally 4 different high and low tides at your local break. However in some places these tide patterns do vary because of obstructions caused by the Earth’s large landmasses, but we won’t bore you with those diurnal-mixed-semi-diurnal tide nuances.

Why are some tides higher or lower than others? What causes the tide’s height to change?

FACT – Your highest and lowest tides will normally occur during Full and New Moons.

Spring tides

While I’d like to tell you that this is because of some weird werewolf superstition type thing, it’s really just because this is when the sun and moon’s gravities are aligned as they tug at the Earth. This special gravitational alignment creates what Oceanographers call Spring tides (And no, this has nothing to do with the season Jump to Conclusions Mat!) Spring tides are your most extreme tides meaning really high highs and really low lows.

However when the moon is in first & third quarter phases (or half full if you’re an optimist), the tide changes are relatively minor in comparison. That’s because the moon and sun pull at an almost right angle and create relatively equal amounts of force on all sides. Remember the football comparison I mentioned earlier? Well these two “footballs” cancel each other out. The result is a Neap Tide or a relatively minor change between high and low tides. See Below Pic for Clarification.

Neap Tides

So depending on the distance and the orientation of the moon, the higher or lower the tides will be. For those of you visual learners below is a simplified animation, that’s obviously not to scale, but should explain everything above.


How does the tide affects the surf?

To understand this question let’s first take a look at waves. Waves are built up energy from wind that travel across the ocean like ripples in a pond. Without a reef, sandbar or shoreline, waves would never break at all. Not until the bottom of a wave is slowed down by the sea floor, does it acualy start to pitch and create something to ride.

Surf or waves in open water

So enter the tide. As the sea level rises and falls, waves will hit the coast in either deeper or shallower water causing it to break differently.

Since the bottom topography, or bathymetry, is different for every location, the tide will affect every spot differently. However, below are some generalizations that will hold true provided that the break gets considerably deeper during a high and shallower during a low.

High Tides:

Surf During High Tide

During a high tide waves generally have more water in between them and the bottom and tend to spill over and onto themselves causing mushy or slower waves. i.e. the dreaded mushburger. That’s because there is less resistance at the bottom of the wave to slow it down enough and create a decent face.

High Tide Push:

During an incoming tide (low to high) you may hear the term High Tide push. This is when waves tend to become larger and more powerful with the added “push” from the incoming tide.

Shorebreak Caused by High Tide:

Shorebreak Caused by High Tide

Aside from mushy waves, sometimes a high tide will make the surf miss all the bottom contours completely and cause the waves to pitch right over and onto the sand. This happens at many beaches where there is a steep drop off into deep water. Many call this type of surf shorebreak or shorepound and it can be very dangerous to an unsuspecting beach goer.

Low Tides:

Conversely during a lower tide waves tend to hit shallower areas that slow the bottom portion of the wave down much quicker and can cause the top of the wave to pitch over itself and barrel. See below picture.

Surf During Low Tide

Low tides, especially extreme ones, can expose reefs, tide pools, and sandbars. This can be hazardous to unexperienced surfers (as waves will break with less cushioning for falls), but can be great for free-divers (can dive to deeper areas with less effort), fishermen (can cast out to further depths from shore), or anyone who wants to check out everything onshore that was underwater 6 hours earlier.

During low tides many people like to check out tidepools, or pockets of water left behind in rocks by the outgoing tide. A full ecosystem of intertidal critters are usually exposed at rocky beaches during low tides.

Tracking the Tide

Since the moon and Earth move in predictable motions, oceanographers are able to accurately predict the tide height and times for beaches well in advance and all over the world. While you can find this info online, or in a tide book, one of the easiest and best ways to track the tide is with a specialized tide watch.

Tide watches come with varying degrees of information and can help you predict the tide for your local break. A personal favorite of mine are the Nixon tide watches.

These watches are especially popular among surfers because they’re fairly inexpensive, they are no bigger than your average wristwatch, and they contain pre-programmed tide information for 200 beaches until 2020. With the special tide functionality on the Nixons you can track general tide height, future tides, and exact high & low tide times, among a number of other functions you’d normally find on a wristwatch.

Aside from the Nixons, we carry a number of other great tide watches on our site that can be equally helpful.

So whether your a surfer wanting to know if the waves will get better/worse, a fisherman looking for the best time to cast out, or just your everyday beach lover, it’s always good to know what the tide is doing at any particular moment. So get yourself a tide watch, learn how to use it and you will be glad you did. If not you might end up as that oblivious kook doing the “yard sale” when the incoming tide washes away his belongings.. I mean, at least that’s entertaining for the rest of us!

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August 4th, 2011 | By | 4,860 Comments

Taj Launches Airs and His Signature Collection at the 2011 US Open of Surfing

Taj Collection Debut Party

The always classy, subtly casual Taj Collection is back! After dominating his first couple of heats at the US Open of Surfing, Taj Burrow celebrated the night with a launch party for his newest collection at RA sushi in Huntington Beach. The swanky, yet laid back restaurant seemed appropriate for a line which Taj claims, “You can wear it to the beach, but then it still has enough steeze to work in a bar.”

taj collection

SWELL will be one of the first to carry the Taj Burrow Collection, so make sure to check back (some of it is already up) and be the first to get your hands on the gear that’s fresher than a thick slice of sashimi!


Click here for more pics from the event

In the meantime, we’ll def be rooting for Mr. Burrow in his upcoming rounds in US Open of surfing!

August 3rd, 2011 | By | 5,924 Comments

Congrats to Aussie Duncan Macfarlane, Winner of the 2011 “Follow The Light” Award

Duncan Macfarlane

As always, this year’s Follow The Light awards proved hard to judge according to master of ceremonies Aaron Chang. Staged in the heart of the US Open at the Shorebreak hotel in Huntington beach, five hand picked, budding surf photographers presented their portfolios in front of surf industry icons and a panel of judges. With each picture more stunning than the next, it was a difficult task to select the “best” photographer from such varied styles and landscapes.

While the tallies were close across the board, Matt Kurvin ultimately won the People’s Choice award for, among other things, his remarkable photos of backwash pounded surf. When these images escaped the projector, Oooh’s and Aaah’s were given as if fireworks had gone off in the room. The Santa Cruz based Floridian was awarded a total of $1500 for his mind-tripping photography.

Duncan Macfarlane’s Winning Photos

For the main prize the timid and shaggy haired Australian Duncan Macfarlane won over the panel with his eclectic mix of progressive surfing, unique perspectives, and varied use of lighting. He walked away with the $5k grant and the prestigious title as the Larry “Flame” Moore Foundation grant recipient for 2011. He plans on further developing his talents and possibly enrolling himself in a photo business course with the prize money.

follow-the-light-finalists-2011 Aaron Chang presented the difficult pick to the 2011 Follow the Light Finalists. From left to right: Quincy Dein, Matt Kurvin, Rick Lesser, Duncan Macfarlene, and Carlos Santana.

SWELLsurf has been a proud sponsor of the Follow the Light Foundation since it’s inception 6 years ago. The award ceremony was created under the wishes of the late and legendary surf photographer Larry “Flame” Moore to help push both the sport of surfing and the lensmen behind it.

Check out all the finalists’ slideshows at

June 13th, 2011 | By | 5,013 Comments

Black Ball Dates & Times for Orange County

Any Surfer's Nemesis - The Standard Black Ball Flag: All Yellow with a Black Circle at Center.

A Surfer's Nemesis - The Standard Black Ball Flag

It’s that time of year again! Yeah we’re all fired up for longer days, southern hemi’s and shedding our rubber, but summer also means the beginning of the Black Ball at most of our local beaches. For those of you unfamiliar with the term, the Black Ball is a flag raised by the lifeguards to help designate certain areas as swimming or surfing only. While many surfers irritably regard it as a blue ball, the flags are raised to help reduce injuries between hard boards and swimmers in the surf line.

Regulations change from day to day and beach to beach, so the best way to avoid a heckling (or a possible ticket from the smurfs) is to ask the lifeguard where you can surf before you paddle out. In general, body boards are permitted in the swim area, but surfboards, skimboards, and other hardboards (doyl’s considered hardboards) must stay in the designated areas.

It’s easy to get upset at the lifeguard yelling at you for crossing an imaginary line when the surf is pumping, but in reality the flag is only up for 3 month out of the year. Those of us accustomed to the early morn dawn patrols or post-work sessions will barely notice it’s there. For those of you still upset, you can always grab a beater or a pair of fins and have just as much fun at the beach. With that said.. I’ll still be counting down the days until that damn flag goes down!!!

Catch Surf Beater Board - Morgan Just

The beater can beat the black ball at certain beaches

Below is a black ball list for Orange County – Check with local LGs for more details:

Huntington Beach Black Ball Times & Areas:

Black Ball determined by how many people are in the water at City Beaches. Usually it will be on the South Side of the Pier from 11:00am – 5:00pm during the summer months.

At State Beaches Black Ball is up from June 14 to Labor Day starting at 11am until the Lifeguard leaves. Weekdays at Newland St. Tower 9 to Tower 11 is not blackballed. Everything south of Tower 2 is never blackballed. On Weekends everything north of Tower 2 is Blackballed.

Newport Beach Black Ball Times & Areas:

From May 1 – Oct. 31, 10:00am -5:00pm the Black Ball is up in Newport. That means no boards at the Wedge and 40-44th Streets, and just about every spot except River Jetties. River Jetties is open to surfing all day. There is NO Stand Up Surfing until Oct. 31.

Laguna Beach Black Ball Times & Areas:

Black Ball is up June 15 – Sept. 15 on all city beaches. There are only 3 areas where surfing is permitted all day: Rockpile, Thalia Street, and Brooks Street. Other small skim areas are posted at Crescent Bay, Lagunita and TI. Times are subject to change but are generally open from 10:00am – 4:00pm Mon through Fri. However the lifeguard may close these down at any time. Black Ball is enforced only while the lifeguard is on duty. This is anywhere from 9 – 7 (most towers are 10-6) depending on the beach.

Aliso has a skim zone that’s enforced from June 15 to Labor Day. Subject to change by surf, crowd, and weather conditions.

Dana Point (Salt Creek / Strands) Black Ball Times & Areas:

Black Ball starts Memorial day and is enforced every weekend until June 25th. On the 25th the Black Ball is in effect every day until Labor Day. Enforced while the lifeguards are on duty. Check posted Flags/signs for locations of surf/swim zones.

San Clemente Black Ball Times & Areas:

Black Ball is enforced from Memorial Day to Labor Day. T-Street to the South Side of the pier is Blackballed from 11:00am – 6:00pm on weekdays and 10:00am – 6:00pm on weekends. Surfing allowed all day from the Pier to the Clock Tower/HQ and Mariposa point to 204s. Trestles is open all year round, but good luck finding a parking sport during the summer.