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Best Tide for Surfing Waves: High vs Low Tides

As a general rule, the best tide for surfing waves is an incoming tide. However, other key factors play a significant role in finding the best time for good waves.

Factors like wind direction, swell size, and the shape of the coastline also play crucial roles in determining surfing conditions.

Here are some jump links to the main sections of this article to help you find the information you need quickly.

What are Tides?
Low Tide Surfing
Medium Tide Surfing
High Tide Surfing
Incoming Tide Surfing
Outgoing Tide Surfing
Local Knowledge
How To Read a Surf Report

What are Tides?

In simple terms, tides represent the rhythmic movement of water as it flows towards and away from the shore.
The moon’s gravitational force pulls on the Earth and causes the oceans to bulge toward it.
So, during a full moon the gravitational pull is at its strongest and produces powerful waves.

This alignment of the Earth, moon, and sun leads to a greater tidal range.
In other words, higher high tides and lower low tides, known as spring tides. 

These tides can significantly affect the waves you’ll encounter while surfing.
Conversely, when the moon sits at a right angle to the sun, we get lower tides, called neap tides.

Along coastlines, different tides play a significant role in shaping surfing conditions and determine when and where the best waves will break.

Low Tide Surfing

During lower tide, the water level recedes.
Also, it creates shallow water surf breaks. 
​If you plan to surf beach breaks, low tide provides a good time to catch waves.

While low tide surfing offers opportunities for exploring new local breaks, it can also result in more challenging conditions, such as closeouts and shallow reefs.

surfing reef break

Medium Tide Surfing

Medium tide refers to a point in between low tide and high tide.
It represents rising tide or falling tide depending on the time of day.

Medium tide conditions provide a balance between the extremes of low and high tide.
Waves during medium tide are often more consistent and offer a wider variety of surfable waves. 

This tide stage is favored by surfers of all skill levels for its versatility and manageable conditions.

High Tide Surfing

Higher tides bring an influx of water that covers sand bars reef breaks.
So, high tide is best if you plan to surf reef breaks because of water depth.

While high tide surfing produces large waves and smoother rides, it can also lead to overcrowding at popular breaks and challenges related to wave shape and size consistency.

Incoming Tide Surfing

The incoming tide occurs as the tide rises towards the shore. 

This tide stage is often favored by surfers for its ability to create powerful, well-shaped waves that break over previously submerged sandbars and reefs.

Outgoing Tide Surfing

The outgoing tide, or dropping tide, occurs as the water level recedes from the shore.
While outgoing tide surfing can offer opportunities for exploring new breaks and riding faster waves, it exposes hazards and shifting sandbars.

Other Factors to Consider

find best waves for surfing

In addition to tide stage, several other weather conditions influence surfing conditions. 

Shore Winds

Wind direction plays a crucial role in the quality of the waves.

Offshore wind (blowing from the land towards the ocean) creates glassy conditions with cleaner, more organized waves.

Conversely, onshore wind (blowing from the ocean towards the land) produce a bumpy surface and choppy surf.


Swell direction and size also impact wave quality.

A ground swell (generated by distant storms) often produce more powerful and consistent waves compared to wind swells (generated by local wind patterns).

Local knowledge

find the best waves local surf shop

Local surfer knowledge is the most valuable information to get to determine the best conditions for surfing.

Locals at the local beach or surf shop have knowledge that a tide table or surf report can’t provide.
Additionally, a surf shop can make recommendations on the ideal conditions for beginner surfers or based on skill level.

Here’s why it’s so important:

  1. Understanding of Swell Direction and Wave Breaks: Different surf spots are affected by swell direction in unique ways. Local knowledge helps surfers understand how waves refract, bend, or wrap around obstacles like points, reefs, or sandbars. It can also provide insights into where waves are likely to break, allowing surfers to position themselves optimally for catching waves.
  2. Knowledge of Tide and Currents: Tides and currents play a significant role in shaping wave conditions. Local surfers know how the tide affects the shape and size of waves, as well as how currents influence water flow and wave behavior. This knowledge helps surfers anticipate when the best waves are likely to occur and where they’ll be found.
  3. Awareness of Hazards: Local surfers are familiar with potential hazards at their home break, such as rocks, reefs, or strong currents. They can advise visiting surfers on safe entry and exit points, as well as areas to avoid to prevent accidents or injuries.
  4. Insights into Wind Patterns: Wind can greatly impact wave quality. Local surfers know how wind direction and strength affect wave shape, texture, and rideability at their surf spot. They can offer valuable advice on how to make the most of prevailing wind conditions or suggest alternative breaks that may be sheltered from the wind.
  5. Community and Etiquette: Surfing is often deeply rooted in local communities, where unwritten rules and etiquette govern surfer interactions in the water. Local surfers can provide guidance on proper behavior, lineup etiquette, and respecting the rights of others to ensure a positive surfing experience for everyone.

Experienced surfers rely on years of experience with their local break to anticipate how tides, winds, and swell patterns interact.

How to Read an Online Surf Report

A surf report, or surf forecast, provides information about current surf conditions.
It includes wave height, swell direction, wind speed, and tide charts.

  1. Wave Height: This indicates the size of the waves usually measured in feet or meters. Higher wave heights generally mean more powerful surf.
  2. Swell Direction: This describes the direction of incoming waves.  Different surf spots may favor a specific swell direction or swell period for optimal wave formation.
  3. Wind Speed and Direction: Offshore winds, blowing from land to sea, create cleaner surf conditions, while onshore winds, blowing from sea to land, can create choppy waves.
  4. Tide Charts: Tide charts provide information about the timing and height of the tides. Understanding how tides interact with the surf spot’s characteristics is crucial for timing your sessions. Paying attention to tide charts can help surfers time their sessions to coincide with the most favorable tide stages for their chosen surf spot.

By understanding how to interpret a surf report, surfers make educated decisions about when and where to surf based on many factors. 


In conclusion, finding the best tide for surfing is only part of the equation.  
You must consider other factors to find the best places for your surfing session.
So, grab your board and find your type of wave.

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