Corky Carroll

Tidal tidbits for Orange County surf spots

In recent weeks I have received a number of questions to my "Ask the Expert" column regarding how the tides affect the surf. As this question requires an answer way too long for that forum I had decided to embark on tips for tides at Orange County surf spots.

Today I will start with the north end of the county and work my way south.

Before I get started, though, let me point out that tides have very little to do with surf size. Our swells are produced by storms far away. In the summer the best surf comes from activity in the South Pacific and sometimes hurricanes off of Mexico. In the winter our best surf comes from big storms in the North Pacific, often off of the Aleutian Islands or up there somewhere.

Tides do affect the surf but not so much in how big or small it is. Some spots work best at low tide, some at high tide. Some work on all tides but take on different personalities depending on how high or how low. With that in mind here come my best tidal tidbits on local surf spots.

Bolsa Chica:This is a beach break that works on all tides. A high tide can tend to have better shape although will have an outside break with a deep spot in the middle and then a rather pounding shorebreak. Lower tides break out farther and there is not so much of an outside-inside condition.

Huntington Beach from north of the pier to Bolsa Chica:Similar to Bolsa Chica but more extreme. A bigger deep spot and a heavier shorebreak. Also more currents.

Huntington Beach Pier:

Again we have the same sort of outside-inside type of sand bar conditions at the pier. Depending on the time of year there will be a wave coming into the pier on one side and on the other side will be a deep area next to the pier with a sandbar that offers waves in both directions. In the summer the swell comes from the south so the south side has the walls going toward the pier while the north side has a hollow peak going into a deep channel next to the pier.

When it is large a higher tide is better as it holds the shape better while a lower tide will tend to create "close out" type of conditions. On a small swell a lower tide is better as it is easier to connect the outside to inside over the big deep spot in the middle. Most beach breaks in this area tend to close out on big swells at low tide and hold the shape better at high tide.

Huntington Beach from the south end of Huntington State Beach to the pier: Same as north of the pier yet still more extreme on the deep spot in the middle. Works best on medium-sized south swells at medium tides.

Newport Beach from the Pier to the River Jetty:More beach breaks but without the huge middle deep spot. There are many peaks along this stretch of beach and most work best on a medium tide. If the tide is too high it tends to be mushy and if it is too low it tends to wall off a bit much. All tides will work along these spots though.

The Wedge:Although this break is primarily a body surfing spot there are some guts-up dudes who are board surfing it these days. For board surfing it's better on a higher tide and it has to be on a very large swell. For body surfing a lower tide is more favorable as the huge "wedge" forms and offers those crazy engulfments that the dudes who do that seem to love.

Let me point out that this spot is NOT for beginners or even intermediates. Experts ONLY. This place can kill you. It takes a big south swell almost exclusively and board surfers pretty much only have it very early in the morning. After that it becomes a body surfing haven and is way too dangerous for both boards and bodies getting sucked over into the very shallow sandbar.

Generally speaking, most of the time waves have a bit more power on an incoming tide than an outgoing tide, especially with a growing swell.

Next week I will continue to work southward through the county with more tidal tidbits.